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UN-backed treaty on hazardous chemicals to get teeth at Geneva meeting

UN-backed treaty on hazardous chemicals to get teeth at Geneva meeting

Officials from more than 100 countries are to meet next week in Geneva to give teeth to a United Nations-backed treaty aimed at helping developing countries more effectively manage hazardous chemicals and pesticides that have poisoned hundreds of thousands of people in recent decades and killed thousands through accidents, misuse and inadequate controls.

The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade prevents shipment of these chemicals - many of them linked to cancer, birth defects and other health problems - into developing nations unless these nations have explicitly agreed to their import.

Jointly supported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), it enables Member States to alert each other to possible risks. Whenever a government anywhere in the world bans or restricts a chemical for health or environmental reasons, this is reported to all member countries.

Next week's meeting will decide whether to add up to 15 new chemicals and pesticides to the 27 already on the PIC list and will seek to establish mechanisms and systems to ensure the Convention's long-term effectiveness. It must also agree on a home for the Convention's permanent secretariat, currently located at FAO headquarters in Rome and UNEP's chemicals office in Geneva. Italy and Switzerland have offered to maintain this arrangement, while Germany has offered to host the secretariat in Bonn.

"The Rotterdam Convention will provide a first line of defence for human health and the environment against the potential dangers of hazardous chemicals and pesticides," UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said ahead of the meeting. "The winners created by this new convention will range from subsistence farmers to nursing mothers to wildlife."

Although chemicals are necessary to meet increasing productivity demands to feed the more than 800 million hungry people in the world, as shown by the current locust infestation in West Africa where pesticides are needed to prevent crop losses, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said all efforts were being made to reduce the effects on people and the environment.

"The Rotterdam Convention provides a means to better protect people living in rural areas by helping countries to learn from each other and to share experiences in the management of hazardous chemicals," he added. "The treaty allows for a more sustainable intensification of crop production supporting our battle against hunger and poverty."