ROME, 4 November 2002 -- A revised 'International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides' should significantly reduce the threats posed by agro-chemicals in developing countries. The Code was adopted by the FAO Council.

"Pesticide use will continue to be a major factor in agricultural production. However, the improper distribution and use of pesticides and highly toxic compounds, in particular in developing countries, continues to cause health and environmental problems," said Gero Vaagt, Senior Officer, Pesticide Management.

"The new Code reflects more strongly than ever the responsibility of governments, the chemical and food industry, traders, pesticide users, public interest groups and international organizations in reducing the health and environmental risks associated with pesticide. It promotes Integrated Pest Management and natural pest control systems."

The Code is the globally accepted standard for pesticide management, FAO said. "If all parties concerned applied the Code, many lives would be saved, environmental damage would be avoided and agricultural production would become more sustainable," Vaagt said.

"The voluntary FAO Code has raised awareness of pesticide hazards since its adoption in 1985. Most developing countries have introduced legislation or regulations related to the distribution and use of pesticides. However, a strict enforcement of the Code is now required."

"The adoption of the new Code was not easy," Vaagt said. "Different interpretations on product protection among countries reflected conflicts of interest between large multinationals and smaller companies that mainly produce generic products. This delayed the adoption of the Code by one year."

In many developing countries, the use of pesticides remains a major risk. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that each year there are 25 million cases of pesticide poisoning and as many as 20,000 unintentional deaths, primarily in developing countries. Long-term effects of regular exposure to pesticides often cause chronic illnesses, including cancer, reproductive and neurological effects.

While more than 80 percent of pesticides are applied in developed countries, 99 percent of all poisoning cases occur in developing countries where regulatory, health and education systems are weakest.

In many of the poorest countries agro-chemicals are not handled or stored within even minimal standards. Highly toxic products are easily available while protective clothing is often too expensive for poor farmers or impossible to wear in humid and hot environments.

The FAO Code sets standards for governments, the pesticide, food and equipment industry, traders, environmental and consumer groups, trade unions and international organizations and strengthens the monitoring and observance of these standards.

Governments, the pesticide industry and international organizations recognize the voluntary Code. Compliance with the Code is obligatory for the members of Crop Life International, the international association of pesticide manufacturers. Several governments have incorporated the Code, or parts of it, into their national pesticide legislation.

The revised Code promotes practices that minimize potential health and environmental risks associated with pesticides. It addresses the life-cycle of pesticides: from their development, regulation, production, management, packaging and labelling, to their distribution, application, use and control and disposal.

The revised Code calls upon industry "to supply only pesticides of adequate quality, and to pay special attention to the choice of pesticide formulations and to the presentation, packaging and labelling in order to reduce risks to users and minimize adverse effects on the environment."

Manufacturers should recall pesticides that pose an unacceptable risk to people, animals and the environment, the Code says. Unfortunately, the production andexport of highly toxic and cheap insecticides such as organophosphates and carbamates continues.

The Code promotes Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies that reduce the reliance on pesticides. IPM emphazises the growth of healthy crops and encourages natural pest control systems. "Experience from numerous FAO projects shows that this approach offers the chance to drastically reduce the use of pesticides and to increase yields," Vaagt said.

The FAO Code urges countries to prevent the accumulation of obsolete pesticides and used pesticide containers. The pesticide industry should assist in the disposal of toxic pesticide waste in an environmentally sound manner. According to FAO estimates, more than 500,000 tonnes of old and unused pesticides that have been banned or have expired are seriously threatening the health of millions of people and the environment in nearly all developing countries and countries in transition.

"Besides saving lives, applying the Code means avoiding toxic waste - millions of dollars for clean-up operations could be saved and spent on training, research and application of environmentally-friendly pest control measures," Vaagt said.