ICYMI: Calls to change South Africa’s ‘old’ rules on pesticides

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South African regulations on agricultural pesticides are “old” according to a public health specialist.

In a GroundUp article published yesterday, Liezl Human writes that many active ingredients in pesticides still used on local crops have already been banned in the European Union (EU) due to the danger they pose to farm workers, consumers and the environment.

Leslie London, head of the University of Cape Town’s division of public health medicine, told GroundUp that glyphosate, a weed killer widely used in South Africa but banned in some EU countries, can be purchased in garden stores that stock herbicides.

London has made several proposals on behalf of the civil society network Unpoison to reform pesticide regulations. But no response from the Ministry of Agriculture [land reform and rural development].

Early May, Women on Farms Project (WFP) parade against the use of hazardous pesticides and called for the legislation governing pesticides in South Africa to be updated.

A 2019 study by WFP, supported by Oxfam South Africa, looked at 456 active ingredients approved in South Africa. He found 67 pesticides banned in the EU. He also found that there is a lack of research and monitoring of worker health effects.

Inadequate regulations

The South African pesticide industry is currently regulated by the Fertilizers, Farm Feeds, Seeds and Remedies Act (FFFAR) which dates back to 1947. The registration of pesticides and the labeling of products are governed by the FFFAR law.

According to London, these regulations are designed to approve the use of pesticides, not to limit their use. He said the scope for limiting pesticides already approved in the country is quite limited. Once a pesticide is registered, it is difficult to restrict it.

The regulations “have not kept up with modern thinking on pest control,” London said. How pesticides are used on farms depends on the instructions on the label. The police should act against farmers who contravene these instructions, which is unlikely.

In his remarks to the Ministry of Agriculture, Agrarian Reform and Rural Development in August, Unpoison said weak pesticide regulations do not comply with Article 24 of the Constitution or the National Law on the Management of Pesticides. Environment (NEMA), both of which ensure that public health is protected.

Unpoison proposed restrictions on aerial spraying of certain pesticides and commented on the lack of training required for those handling hazardous pesticides and the need for greater public education.

Members of the Women On Farms Project marched in Worcester on May 5, 2022 to demand an urgent ban on 67 substances. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp

Response from the pesticide industry

Elriza Theron, spokesperson for Croplife, a non-profit industry association for pesticide manufacturers and suppliers, told GroundUp that the pesticide approval process is strict and “more than 150 safety studies are conducted on each potential new product before it is approved for commercial use”.

She said there are various ways to protect consumers and those who handle pesticides. Pesticides can only be used according to the instructions on the label. “The product label is the law,” Theron said. This means that any farmer who violates these instructions violates the FFFAR.

There are also other regulations that guide the use of pesticides. The Occupational Health and Safety Act for example, requires workers to wear protective clothing when handling pesticides, she said.

Residues on crops must also meet the country’s maximum residue limits (MRLs). If the residues exceed the MRL, the product cannot be marketed.

The use of chemical crop protection is crucial in controlling pests and diseases and has allowed farmers to produce much larger harvests. “Food security is not just a buzzword, it is a national priority, and protecting crops from pests, diseases and weeds is part of sustainable food production and food security” , Theron said.

GroundUp tried for two weeks, in vain, to obtain a response from the Ministry of Agriculture.

This article was written by Liezl Human and first post by Ground Up.

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