Study Finds Suicides Linked to Toxic Agricultural Pesticides, Authors Call for Global Ban

(Beyond Pesticides, August 30, 2017) Preventing the 250,000 farmer suicides globally from pesticide self-poisoning requires more than household security measures. It requires the removal of highly toxic pesticides from the market, according to a study recently published by The Lancet. Global suicide rates associated with pesticide use is tracked by the World Health Organization, with 89% taking place in rural Asia, where the current study was conducted. By encouraging a transition to safer organic practices, and implementing restrictions on imports containing toxic pesticides, developed countries like the U.S. can assist in reducing farmer suicide rates.

Research in The Lancet, published by a team of scientists from Sri Lanka and the UK, looked at suicide rates within 180 Sri Lankan villages, representing over 200,000 individuals and over 50,000 households, over the course of three years. Households in half of the villages (90) received lockable pesticide storage containers, while the remaining villages, acting as a control group, did not. Suicide by pesticide is associated with impulsivity, the authors indicate, so the purpose of the study was to investigate whether encouraging active individual means to restrict access (means restrictions) would lower suicide rates. Means restriction is a method of suicide prevention, which includes eliminating access to areas or items people might use to take their own life.

After three years, 61% of households that received the storage containers were storing pesticides away, with 53% locking them away. In the control group, 52% were storing pesticides, and 5% were locking them away. However, incidents of pesticide self-poisoning were ultimately very similar between the two groups. The villages that received the pesticide storage lockers recorded 611 cases of suicide, while the villages in the control group recorded 641.

Thus, researchers found no evidence that household storage lockers would prevent suicides, indicating a failure of active individual means restriction. Indeed, authors conclude that the only successful method of means restriction that has shown to reduce pesticide self-harm is to completely remove highly toxic pesticides from agricultural use.

“A worldwide ban on the use of highly hazardous pesticides is likely to prevent tens of thousands of deaths every year,” said lead author David Gunnell, DSc, of University of Bristol, to the Daily Star.

Already, the study notes, by implementing alternative pest management approaches that focus on less hazardous pesticides, Sri Lanka has reduced suicides rates by 75% over the last 20 years, saving over 93,000 lives. And unsurprisingly, the country has not suffered any measurable drop in agricultural yields.

Developed countries like the U.S. can play an important part in reducing suicides in rural agricultural areas. Buying organic not only contributes to a system that respects the natural environment and stops exposure to toxic pesticides, it also reduces demand for toxic pesticides in areas of the world where farmer suicides are alarmingly high. Coupled with evidence from past studies that link pesticide exposure to suicidal ideations, as well as depression, even in developed countries, this research strongly supports a ban on toxic pesticides in favor of organic practices. In addition, small and peasant farmers, who are encouraged to adopt chemical-intensive farming practices, typically take on high debt and face insect and weed resistance that results in crop failure and financial ruin.

For more information on how organic is the right choice for both consumers and farmworkers in the agricultural communities that grow our food, see Beyond Pesticides’ webpage, Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: The Daily Star

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