A global treaty to limit and manage the use of hazardous pesticides, and ensure that potentially dangerous chemicals are properly labelled, is to become international law.
The so-called Rotterdam Convention will come into force next February after Armenia last week became the 50th country to ratify the treaty.
“We now have an effective system in place for avoiding many of the deadly mistakes made in past decades when people were less aware of the dangers of toxic chemicals,” says Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.
“This new regime offers its member governments, particularly in developing countries, the tools they need to protect their citizens, clean up obsolete stockpiles of pesticides and strengthen their chemical management.”
Many pesticides that have been banned in industrialised countries are still marketed and used in developing countries. The use of such pesticides and other hazardous chemicals are thought to kill or cause serious disease to thousands every year, as well as poisoning the natural environment and damaging wild animals.
The convention enables importing countries to decide which chemicals they want to receive and to exclude those they cannot manage safely. When trade is permitted, it sets requirements for labelling and providing information on potential health and environmental effects.
So far, 27 chemicals are covered by the convention, but five more pesticides have already been flagged for inclusion, and many more substances are likely to be added in the future.
“The convention will help countries to control the availability of pesticides that are recognised to be harmful to human health and the environment and of highly toxic pesticides that cannot be handled safely by small farmers in developing countries,” says Jacques Diouf, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Most of the countries that have so far signed the Rotterdam Convention are developing countries. The first meeting of the signatory states will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, in late 2004.