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October 16, 2002 - Killer pesticides in cotton can be stopped

At least 20,000 people in developing countries die every year from poisoning by agricultural pesticides. In the small West African state of Benin, one of the world's poorest countries, cotton pesticides killed at least 61 men, women and children between 1999-2001. Poor, untrained and ill-equipped farmers are using some of the most hazardous pesticides available. More deaths have been recorded this year.

But it doesn't have to be this way. The organic cotton market offers major opportunities. Some farmers are obtaining higher yields than conventional farmers, and farmers in the organic sector are clear that they will not go back to using chemicals. Gera Paul says, "While organic farming is more difficult, it saves lives from not using pesticides. We no longer have debt problems. Income is all profit at the end of season. Land and soil are preserved."

For women, the prime motivations for organic farming are improved family health, and their children are not at daily risk of fatal poisonings. Their food supply is also safer, and more plentiful. "2 adults and 3 children died on successive days when their maize store was contaminated through a leaky pesticide container."

PAN UK is proud to be launching three new reports on organic cotton based on research undertaken in 2001-2002. The first of these reports evaluates organic cotton production and potential in five countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The report highlights the benefits that organic production brings to farmers in terms of higher incomes and better health. The second report examines Northern markets. It investigates barriers to increased consumption of organic cotton and highlights market opportunities for businesses. Consumers more than ever want ethically sourced products.

The final report also examines and evaluates research on GM cotton, and discusses the implications to small scale farmers. 'The claim that herbicide tolerant cotton would lead to reduced use of herbicides has not been substantiated in the US', said Sue Mayer, the report's author, who points out that 'pesticide resistant cotton has encouraged increased damage by secondary pests such as stink bugs'.

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