Loudmouths vs mouthpieces

August 29th, 2009 by

(By Solita Collas-Monsod. Republished From the Philippine Daily Inquirer: http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view/20090829-222529/Loudmouths-vs-mouthpieces)

Cotabato (formerly North Cotabato) passed a Provincial Environment Code in 2004. Sec. 78 of the code prohibits aerial spraying on croplands and plantations. This has not interfered with the success of its declared policy redirecting its agriculture from traditional toward market-oriented, with bananas as one of the four major principal products given major support. Thousands of hectares devoted to bananas are flourishing sans aerial spraying.

Bukidnon, also known as the food basket of Mindanao, banned aerial spraying even earlier in 2001, when it passed an ordinance ?Banning the Use of Aerial Spraying for All Banana Plantations and Other Agricultural Plantations in the Province of Bukidnon.? Yet its banana plantations are thriving.

What this suggests is that the warning that the ban on aerial spraying in Davao will cause the banana industry to collapse should carry about as much weight as the warning by the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines that reducing the prices of their medicines by 50 percent will cause their bankruptcy.

So much for these piddling attempts at economic blackmail.

What is the shouting all about?

People living in communities near and beside the banana plantations claim that the aerial spraying has compromised their health (and say that workers in the plantations themselves are at least equally affected, but are too scared of losing their jobs to complain). To back them up are studies allegedly commissioned by non-government organizations advocating stricter pesticide controls; and then prompted by complaints from residents in the affected areas?a study commissioned by the Department of Health (and apparently funded by the ADB). Is there an estimate of the number of people who may be adversely affected. Based on a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finding, the drift of aerial spraying can reach as far as 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) which, in Davao’s case, covers about 200,000 people.

The banana planters giants, both multinational and local as well as the pesticide manufacturers, pooh-pooh the claims, counterclaiming that the (DoH) study was faulty, with erroneous conclusions, etc., etc., that the victims of aerial spraying are bogus, and that aerial spraying of the fungicides/pesticides poses no health hazards at all, the pesticides themselves approved by the US EPA. Aerial spraying is done worldwide and they should know, because Chiquita, Dole, and Del Monte (all operating here) together reportedly produce and control 65-70 percent of the world?s banana exports. And who hasn’t heard of Monsanto, Synergenta, and Dow?

BTW, in an ad hominem attack, someone has labeled the affected communities and their NGO friends loudmouths. The latter have been goaded to respond in kind, calling their media attackers mouthpieces. Interesting, but leading nowhere.

So who has the right of it?the loudmouths, or the mouthpieces? Having read quite a lot of the documents from both sides, I looked up Mancozeb on the Internet?the fungicide most commonly used in aerial spraying, and claimed by the industry to be safe.

An eye-opener. The first thing you see on its ?label? is the warning that it is ?ecotoxic,? i.e., environmentally damaging, complete with warning symbol. There is also the warning that it must be under the care of an ?Approved Handler,? when ?applied in a wide dispersive manner, or used by a commercial contractor.?

Then there is the list of its hazard classifications, as 6.4A, 6.5A, 6.5B, 6.9B, and 9.1A, which the label expounds on: ?Toxic?May cause eye irritation. Harmful?may cause sensitization from prolonged skin contact. May cause organ damage from repeated oral exposure at high doses. Avoid eye and skin contact. Avoid inhalation of spray mist ?.Very toxic to fish and aquatic organisms.?

Does that sound like Mancozeb is harmless? Would it be OK with you if you were sprayed 10 to 12 times a year with this stuff? And if it got into the rainwater you collect for drinking? If there is still room for doubt, it will be dispelled by the instructions on the label itself about its handling: ?Protective Clothing?When mixing or applying wear appropriate protective clothing including impervious elbow-length gloves, chemical resistant boots, eye protection and cotton overalls buttoned to the neck and wrist. Remove protective clothing and wash hands, arms, and face with soap and water before meals and after work.

And that?s just Mancozeb.

One irony in all this is that aerial spraying may not even be cost effective. According to a paper by Ann-Claire Chambron, the EARTH College (Escuela de Agricultura de la Region Tropical Humeda) estimates that ?15 percent of this fungicide is lost to wind drift and falls outside the plantation, 40 percent ends up on the soil rather than on the plants and approximately 35 percent is washed off by rain. This results in a 90 per cent loss.?

Another irony is that in other countries, cases have been filed against the growers/ pesticide companies by those who claim to be affected. Here, the affected communities don?t even want damages, they just want the spraying stopped. Here, it is the growers that have filed suit?claiming that the ban on aerial spraying is unconstitutional. Chutzpah. And while they lost in the RTC, they?ve won in the CA who ruled that their property rights were violated (!). Next stop, the Supreme Court.

Loudmouths versus mouthpieces? Count me in as a loudmouth. Anytime.