Drive led by world consumer group; Fighting pesticide 'dumping' in third world

The worldwide consumer movement has begun a determined campaign to stop chemical firms based in industrialized nations from ''dumping'' pesticides and other dangerous substances in underdeveloped countries.

Leading the drive is the International Organization of Consumers Unions (IOCU), which recently formed a Pesticide Action Network (PAN) to spread information about these substances and advocate specific remedies. Anwar Fazal, president of the IOCU, says PAN has been able to involve millions of people in this campaign. Through an international information-alert system called Consumer Interpol, the IOCU plans to put pressure on governments and international organizations to ''go to the root of this problem.''

Goals include: developing safe methods of pest control; imposing controls on shipment of potentially dangerous pesticides and drugs into third-world countries; requiring full disclosure by governments that have restricted or banned use of specific pesticides in their own lands; and getting third-world governments to establish their own pesticide controls.

Consumer and environmental groups in the United States, a major exporter of pesticides and drugs to the third world, have pushed for years to have Washington extend to foreign consumers at least the same protection from dangerous pesticides as is provided Americans. Their success has been limited.

Chiefly because of the dumping of hazardous chemical products, Mr. Fazal says , ''the image of 'Made in USA' is becoming one that is not entirely trustworthy. . . .''

The IOCU leader points out that even a mild initiative by President Carter, five days before he left office, to discourage export of dangerous chemicals, was canceled by Ronald Reagan some 50 days after he became President. Mr. Carter had issued an executive order requiring that whenever a US company was preparing to ship an unregistered or severely restricted pesticide to another country, that nation's government would have to be notified and would have to request that the product be shipped.

Current US law permits American firms to export pesticides that are banned or subject to restricted on use in this country. The Environmental Protection Agency can prohibit a company from producing a substance for use in the US. But if the substance is destined for sale overseas, production and export cannot be stopped. The manufacturer doesn't even have to disclose the ingredients of such a chemical to the EPA.

IOCU's Fazal points out that those pesticides are often used on crops that are then exported to Western countries. Investigative reporters David Weir and Mark Shapiro of Oakland, Calif., in their 1981 book, ''Circle of Poison,'' documenting the worldwide pesticide problem, said: ''Over half, and in some countries up to 70 percent, of the pesticides used in underdeveloped countries are destined for export to consumers in Europe, Japan, and the United States.''

The United Nations Environmental Program, in a report issued at its 10th anniversary meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, last May, stated: ''There are no safe pesticides.''

''In the third world,'' Fazal says, ''where fish is an important natural, free food that keeps many communities going,'' pesticide residues are ''beginning to destory the whole economic basis of communities through fish poisoning. There are reports of rapid declines in fish catches from many parts of the world - from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines. . . .''

Fazal cites some signs of progress: In New Zealand, which he admits is not one of the major sources of pesticide contamination, the government ''decided that any product that is recalled in New Zealand (as potentially harmful to the environment or human health) will never be sent abroad. That was an agreement where industry representatives decided, 'We're going to work together and deal with these problems.' ''

Castle & Cook, the US-based firm that owns Dole Pineapple, has adopted the policy of not using anywhere else in the world pesticides that are banned in the US. ''We will publicize changes like this,'' says Fazal.

In the US, Rep. Michael Barnes (D) of Maryland proposed in 1980 that licenses be required for the export of substances banned in this country. His bill, which did not get past committee hearings, set the following conditions for such licensing: The government of the importing country would have to request the product; the US government would have to determine that the potential benefits of the product outweighed the risks involved in its use; and the product would have to contain clear instructions for proper use as well as meet US labeling requirements.

Also - and this is a matter of major concern to consumer advocates like Anwar Fazal - the Barnes bill would have prohibited shipment of ingredients for banned products overseas to be formulated and sold.

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