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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

European Court Overturns Paraquat Authorization - Global Action Must Follow!

Posted to the IUF website 07-Aug-2007

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The European Court of First Instance has annulled the 2003 authorization of the deadly herbicide paraquat, ruling that the authorization was based on a flawed assessment of the risks to agricultural workers and to the environment.

Agricultural workers' unions and environmental groups have campaigned for many years to ban the use of paraquat, which 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. There is no known antidote to paraquat poisoning. A potentially fatal link has been documented between paraquat exposure and Parkinson's disease. Agricultural workers are regularly exposed to this toxic substance during handling and mixing, spraying and working in freshly-sprayed fields. Despite the well-documented risks to human health and the environment, paraquat is widely applied to fruits, vegetables and cotton and extensively used on oil palm, among other plantation crops. Global sales total over USD 400 million annually.

The December 2003 decision to authorise paraquat came in response to an unprecedented lobbying effort by the manufacturer Syngenta and the wider pesticides lobby in the main EU member states. The decision was adopted not only against the opposition of environmental, public health and trade union organizations (whose members are in the front line of exposure); it was adopted against the opposition of EU member states where paraquat had previously been banned (Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden).

In March 2004, a coalition of unions and NGO's, including the IUF, challenged the authorization in the European Court of First Instance, contending that the Commission decision ignored readily available scientific evidence on the herbecide's toxic effects. This challenge was ruled "inadmissible" by the Court in November 2005, with the bizarre argument that none of the organizations involved could claim to be affected by the authorization.

The government of Sweden, however, simultaneously launched its own challenge at the Court of First Instance, and it is that challenge which the Court ruled in favor of on July 11. In the absence of an appeal by the Commission, EU member states are now required to revoke authorization for the advertisement, sale, storage and use of all products containing paraquat.

In response to the EU's 2003 authorization, the IUF noted that "The global consequences of the EU paraquat approval have not been slow to follow the decision. Syngenta immediately made use of the EU decision to mount a public relations and lobbying campaign in Malaysia to reverse that country's phased ban on paraquat. The paraquat lobby is also lobbying hard in Central America, where paraquat use has come in for strong criticism."

The 2007 decision to overturn the authorization should be the signal for renewed international action against the global paraquat lobby. The IUF joins with other campaigning organizations in calling on governments to revoke authorization and take paraquat off the market and out of the fields.