Toxic Chemicals and the Struggle for People´s Health

Speech delivered by Dr. Romeo F. Quijano at the 2nd People’s Health Assembly held in Cuenca, Ecuador from July 17- 23, 2005

Under the banner of modernization and development, the industrialized countries and their transnational chemical companies have inundated the earth with toxic chemicals. Third world countries, in particular, have been trapped into a ¨pesticide treadmill¨¨ through the so-called ¨Green Revolution¨¨ which promised prosperity in increased agricultural production but which, in fact, have resulted to greater poverty and misery to the peasants due to the loss of food sovereignty and poisonings from agrochemicals.

Scientific studies and people´s experiences on the ground have demonstrated that pesticides cause a variety of health problems. It has been estimated that about 3 – 25 million acute poisonings from pesticides occur every year, mostly in developing countries. Serious diseases such as cancer, disruption of the immune system, reproductive toxicity, and many other chronic illness have been shown to be associated with exposure to pesticides, even at low concentrations. There is growing worldwide concern on the adverse effects of toxic chemicals on the endocrine system of both animals and humans. Evidence is accumulating that certain chemicals, appropriately called “endocrine disruptors,” interfere with the delicate functions of internal biological messengers called hormones that are essential to the growth, development, and survival of higher life forms, especially humans.

Many poisons, particularly pesticides, are used in the production, processing and storage of food. Thus, the safety of food, the basic requirement for the sustenance of life and for the long-term viability of future generations, is seriously being threatened.

But the problem is much more than the poisonous chemicals. We have to recognize that there are the poison-pushers, the transnational agrochemical companies (TNCs) that aggressively promote and monopolize the basic elements of the food system such as seeds and agrochemical inputs. Then there are the corrupt governments, especially those in the most powerful developed countries, who protect and advance corporate interests using coercive powers of authority to contravene their own people’s mandate to protect people’s interests. Together, these “twin powers” force their way into disadvantaged communities through various agencies like the IMF, World Bank, and the WTO. They impose a “globalized” economy characterized by monopoly control, monocropping and the supremacy of trade and profit concerns—thereby destroying indigenous culture and food systems, creating absolute dependency and powerlessness. With their combined power and enormous resources, these “twin powers” dictate the market-oriented production system; establish the manner of distribution favoring the rich, construct the knowledge (including science) and information systems that mould consumer beliefs and preferences; and enforce a system of governance that guarantees the attainment of corporate objectives.It is therefore necessary, to always ensure that the campaign for a poison-free environment is integrated with the people’s struggle for land, food security and other fundamental social, political and economic rights. Campaign strategies must truly be community-based, and must ultimately lead to people’s empowerment. Health for all and freedom from poison cannot be achieved without social emancipation. It is necessary for all concerned sectors to reach out in solidarity to grassroots activists, especially in the farming communities where food is primarily produced. NGO activists must have profound understanding of concrete realities at the grassroots level and have complete trust in people’s ability to liberate themselves. Only a people’s movement effectively striking at the core of the structural causes of health and environmental degradation will advance the struggle for people´s health.

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