Assessing risks of pesticides to human and environmental health


Improving the skills needed to assess the risks of agricultural pesticides to human and environmental health is the aim of a capacity building workshop this week (27 April–1 May) at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in Suva.

Good risk assessment and sound pesticide registration systems are essential in building the resilience and wellbeing of Pacific Island communities.

The European Union is assisting the workshop with funds for Phase 2 of the “Capacity Building related to Multilateral Environmental Agreements in ACP Countries” – a partnership with SPC, and with technical support provided by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

Most Pacific Islands do not have specialised skills and diagnostic equipment available to conduct thorough scientific analyses of pesticides, often relying on standards used in neighbouring countries, such as New Zealand and Australia.

More than 60 per cent of pesticides imported by Pacific Island countries and territories have not been properly assessed for risks to human and environmental health.

The workshop will build the capacity of Pacific Island people involved in national pesticide registration and management through practical training in proper health and environmental risk assessments on hazardous pesticides.

In his opening remarks to the workshop, the Head of Cooperation at the European Union Pacific Office, Renato Mele, acknowledged the work carried out by FAO and SPC on this important, but sensitive, subject.

He said funds had been set aside in Phase 2 of the project to build national capacity to implement the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) cluster on chemicals in the Pacific.

“Phase 1 of the Project saw SPC and the Secretariat of Pacific Regional Environment Project working closely with FAO to develop and implement strategies to reduce use of hazardous chemicals in agriculture,” Mr Mele said.

“The second phase will focus on strengthening the capacity of national and regional institutions and MEAs secretariat, including the development of a regional Pesticides Stock Management System.”

Mr Mele also discussed the European Union Framework for Development and the 2015 European Year of Development, in the context of its April theme of “health”, saying that this was also relevant to the workshop’s focus on assessment of the risks that pesticides pose to human health.

Dr Keneti Faulalo shared some thoughts on behalf of FAO, reiterating the relevant organisational strategic objectives and priority areas for FAO in the Pacific, including on sustainable agriculture and increasing resilience of livelihoods.

“Effective management of pesticides and wastes cannot be carried out in silos. Agriculture will need to work with the health and environment sectors in an integrated manner if we are to effectively address the management of pesticides impacting on health and environment,” he said.

Dr Faulalo also emphasised the importance of regional mechanisms in pesticide management.

“FAO fully supports a regionally harmonised system that was alluded to and shared amongst stakeholders in a previous regional meeting on developing a coordinated pesticide evaluation and registration approach.

“FAO is also supporting another pesticide regional project on empty pesticide container management and synergies between the two regional projects are encouraged to be fostered at the regional and national level,” said Dr Faulalo.

Keynote speaker, the Deputy Director of SPC’s Land Resources Division, Dr Ken Cokanasiga, noted the need for national governments to regulate pesticides, especially in regard to highly residual and toxic insecticides, such as organochlorines and organophosphates.

“This would mean the revision and updating of pesticide legislation, adopting effective pesticide registration schemes and implementing the FAO/WHO International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management,” Dr Cokanasiga said.

“In addition, ratification of the Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions would greatly complement pesticide legislation to safeguard human health and the environment.

“Moreover, it is extremely important to understand the risk factors that are involved when dealing with pesticides. The hazard status of a product determines the level of risk involved. So understanding risk assessment protocols is crucial for decision-making processes.”

The workshop covers principles of assessment of risks to human and environmental health of pesticides, including an introduction to the Pesticide Stock Management System (PSMS) as a key focus of the training.

PSMS is an FAO pesticide management tool designed to harmonise the global use and sharing of pesticide registration information. This tool would enable users to link and gather appropriate pesticide product information from current users of those products to assist in registration protocols.

PSMS also assists governments on pesticide regulations by establishing a direct linkage between customs and pesticide registration offices.

The workshop is being conducted by FAO consultant, Harold van der Valk, a specialist in pesticide management and environmental toxicologist, and FAO information technology specialist, Kiran Viparthi, and coordinated by SPC Integrated Pest Management Officer, Mr Fereti Atu.

Media contact:

Emil Adams, Information and Communication Management Officer, +679 9006517