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One of the major contributors to the public health crisis is pesticide poisoning.

While pesticides are effective at killing pests, such as rodents and insects, and weeds, they can also cause farmers who use them to suffer from unintentional acute pesticide poisoning (UAPP). And according to a new study published in BMC Public Health, 44% of farmers worldwide suffer from UAPP each year, resulting in 11,000 deaths.

The scientists conducted a systematic review of UAPP cases found in peer-reviewed publications. A systematic review is a research method that gathers all the relevant and empirical evidence regarding a particular research question. The evidence is extracted from analysing multiple studies and used to draw conclusions.

This is the second systematic review of UAPP cases to be done on a global scale. The first one was conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1990. WHO concluded that one million UAPP cases happen a year, resulting in an estimated 20,000 deaths. The new research aimed to update that research to account for the increasing usage of pesticides around the world.

To arrive at the current annual estimate, the researchers looked at 157 scientific articles that were published between 2016 and 2018. They then supplemented that with mortality data from a WHO database, which added 83 more articles. And what they found was shocking.

The worldwide farming population is estimated to be around 860 million. And 44% of this means that there are approximately 385 million cases of UAPP reported yearly. According to the scientists, “The greatest estimated number of UAPP cases is in southern Asia, followed by south-eastern Asia and east Africa with regards to non-fatal UAPP.” Out of the 11,000 deaths from UAPP, 60% (6,600) of them were reported in India.

The study had some limitations, though. For example, the researchers admitted that the selection criteria for identifying the relevant literature for the systematic review was “too restrictive.” And that the estimates are “partly based on a weak database.” However, the researchers were confident and showed that the limitations didn’t have a significant impact on the estimates. This means the study is an accurate representation of the danger pesticides pose to the health of farmers worldwide.

The researchers offered some hope, however, stating that the impact of the UAPP on the global farming community can be reduced. Particularly, they suggested that the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) should implement international guidelines aimed at phasing out the use of highly poisonous pesticides.

Neonicotinoids (or neonics) are the most widely used insecticide in the world. However, for the past thirty years these insecticides have been known to pose a significant threat to butterflies, birds and aquatic insects.

Bees, however, are most adversely affected by these chemicals as they disturb the central nervous system of these insects. Bees have more receptors for these insecticides in their bodies and fewer genes for detoxification, which increases their genetic vulnerability to neonics.

Unlike contact pesticides that remain on the surface of the treated foliage, neonics are systemic, absorbed by the plant and transported around it to all its tissue. This includes its leaves, flowers, roots, stems, as well as the pollen and nectar that bees feed on.

Neonics are applied at the root or sprayed onto crop foliage, and remain active for many weeks, protecting the crop throughout the season. They are often used to treat cereals, ornamental pot plants, turf and glasshouse crops such as apples and pears. In Australia, these chemicals are used heavily on corn, canola and cotton crops.

In 2018, the European Member States banned the outdoor use of neonics. The European Food Safety Authority published risk assessment reports which brought to light considerable problems with these insecticides.

Scientific assessors concluded that the use of neonics results in a high risk to the life of both wild and honey bees due to genetic factors that amplify the effect of these chemicals, as well as the insecticide contaminating soil and water in the environment.

As a result, the European Commission voted positively to heavily ban their outdoor use. However, these measures have not been adopted in Australia.

As bees are vital pollinators to Australian food crops, when elected, the Health Australia Party will immediately:

  • Call for a ban of these insecticides given the increased evidence to suggest that these chemicals are adversely affecting the health of bee populations in Australia (both introduced and native).
  • Establish a program between professional beekeepers, farmers, National industry bodies (such as the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council and Plant Health Australia) and local bee associations to closely monitor bee health in areas where neonics are in use.

Hear from Australian beekeepers here:

Ben’s Bees (Facebook)
Save the Bees Australia
Save the Bees Australia – Instagram
Neonicotinoids in Australia – Part 2 (2016)
Neonicotinoids in Australia (2011)

Find the Australian Government’s views on neonicotinoids here:

Current review of neonicotinoids

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