Initiated by WWF in cooperation with business partners --a group of producers, buyers, retailers and financial institutions-- in 2003, the initiative called Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has hold its third meeting in Singapore this month where 8 Principles and 39 Criteria were adopted.
The IUF and the Berne Declaration had called for fundamental changes to the proposed "Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production" --which were finally adopted without any change--, for permitting the use of highly toxic pesticides that are extremely harmful to human health and the environment. In their current form, the criteria ensure the interests of the pesticide industry --co-sponsors of the initiative-- rather than the health of oil palm plantation workers.
The Principles, while requiring producers to look for alternatives to pesticides designated as class-1-toxins, ultimately do not ban the use of these substances. They also permit the continued use of paraquat, a full-range herbicide widely used on palm oil plantations and known to poison thousands of plantation workers and small farmers every year. Paraquat is responsible for a substantial number of the tens of thousands of annual pesticide-related deaths. Once absorbed through the skin or lungs or orally ingested, its effects are irreversible. Several countries have already banned the substance, with the latest ban set to take effect in Malaysia in 2007.
The International Union of Food and Agricultural Workers (IUF) and agricultural workers’ unions across the world have been calling for a paraquat ban for years. “There is no room for Paraquat in a socially and environmentally sustainable agriculture”, declared IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald.
There is a trend in certification of sustainable production in the agricultural sector to rule out the use of the most highly toxic pesticides including paraquat.
As the IUF and the Berna Declaration expressed: “Yet the criteria for sustainable palm oil do not reflect these concerns about paraquat in any way. No other label is as weak on pesticide criteria as the new Palm Oil Principles and Criteria. One reason for this might be RSPO’s link to the agro-chemical industry. After all, the official dinner at the RSPO-meeting in Singapore is sponsored by none other than the Syngenta Corporation, the world’s leading manufacturer of paraquat.”
Several considerations are being discussed around whether palm oil can actually be sustainably produced. Certainly not with paraquat.
Article based on Press communiqué dated 17 November 2005 issued by the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Catering, Tobacco and General Workers (IUF), e-mail: : firstname.lastname@example.org, www.iuf.org; and the Bern Declaration: email@example.com; www.evb.ch