Shruthi’s hands have only four digits, oddly splayed and disfigured. Her deformed right lower limb has been amputated. Her mother, who died of cancer six years ago, is one of an estimated 4,000 people killed by endosulfan sprayed on the cashew plantations around her village in Kerala, India.
Around the world, pesticides kill an estimated 355,000 people every year. Many more suffer debilitating illnesses, bear children with shocking disabilities, and ingest poisons through food and water, including the breast milk of nursing mothers.
In early December, the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) Session on Agrochemical Transnational Corporations (TCNs) convened in Bangalore, India to hear testimony against the six companies most responsible for ongoing, massive violations of people’s rights to life, livelihood and health. The six companies on trial—Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, BASF and Monsanto—are the top producers of agricultural chemicals.
All six were found guilty, as were the United States, Switzerland and Germany. In addition, the technology-importing states were found culpable for not pursuing less hazardous agriculture. The Tribunal also called to task international agencies such as WHO, FALO, ILO and WTO. They made recommendations to all levels and called on states to pursue criminal action against the chemical manufacturers.
The Tribunal was a fitting way to observe the anniversary of the Bhopal disaster. The 1984 explosion at a Union Carbide pesticide plant caused hundreds of thousands of injuries and led to the deaths of an estimated 25,000.
The toll of death, disease and disability continues. During four days of testimony, four technical witnesses and 15 survivors spoke of poisoned children, reproductive and other health effects, animals feminized by atrazine, declining bee populations, activists killed and injured, land and water contaminated and children exploited.
More than 7,000 people and 400 people’s organizations have endorsed the PPT Session on Agrochemical TCNs. The Tribunal’s recommendations are a blueprint for protecting human health, food sovereignty and ecological agriculture.
In spite of overwhelming evidence of human rights violations and health and environmental impacts, chemical companies have bought support among governments, scientists and farmers. It will take a global Occupy Agriculture movement to counter the insidious influence of an agricultural system concentrated in a few hands that care more about profit than the future of the planet and its people.
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