Prohibiting monocrotophos is the only option to prevent harm

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on Thursday said the death of 23 children at Chapra in Bihar after eating school meal contaminated with monocrotophos was an important reminder to speed up the withdrawal of highly hazardous pesticides from markets in the developing countries.

Monocrotophos is an organophosphorus pesticide considered highly hazardous by FAO and World Health Organisation (WHO).

Experiences in many developing countries have shown that the distribution and use of such highly toxic products often pose a serious risk to human health and environment.

“The incident in Bihar underscores that secure storage of pesticide products and safe disposal of empty pesticide containers are risk reduction measures, which are as crucial as prominent field-oriented steps such as wearing proper protective masks and clothing,” FAO said in a statement here.

The entire distribution and disposal cycle for highly hazardous pesticides carried significant risks. Safeguards were difficult to ensure in many countries, it added.

In 2004, the government ruled out banning the production and use of monocrotophos on the grounds that it was cheaper than alternatives and more effective in controlling pests that ruin the crops despite being labelled as highly hazardous by the WHO.

Among international organisations, including FAO, WHO and the World Bank, there is consensus that highly hazardous products should not be available to small scale farmers who lack knowledge and proper sprayers, protective gear and storage facilities to manage such products appropriately.

“FAO, therefore, recommends that governments in the developing countries should speed up the withdrawal of highly hazardous pesticides from their markets,” it said.

Non-chemical and less toxic alternatives were available, and in many cases Integrated Pest Management could provide adequate pest management that was more sustainable and reduced the use of pesticides.

The International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management, adopted by FAO member- countries, establishes voluntary standards of conduct for all public and private entities involved in pesticide management.

This code has been broadly accepted as the main reference for responsible pesticide management.

The code states that prohibiting the importation, distribution, sale and purchase of highly hazardous pesticides may be considered if, based on risk assessment, risk mitigation measures or good marketing practices, are insufficient to ensure that the product can be handled without unacceptable risk to humans and the environment.

For monocrotophos, many governments have concluded that prohibition is the only effective option to prevent harm to people and environment. This pesticide is prohibited in Australia, China, the European Union and the United States, and in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

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