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UN Report: Pesticide Role in Preventing Hunger ‘A Myth’

An analysis presented to a United Nations panel last week reportedly contradicted claims that agricultural pesticides will be needed to feed a growing global population in coming decades.

An analysis presented to a United Nations panel last week reportedly contradicted claims that agricultural pesticides will be needed to feed a growing global population in coming decades.

Agrichemical giants long argued that pesticides — often used in combination with crops genetically modified to withstand them -- would be necessary to generate higher yields from limited available land for farming.

The Guardian, however, reports that UN specialists on toxins and food security deemed the argument from the agrichemical industry "a myth" and pointed to projections that the planet could already feed 9 billion people — the population forecasted in 2050.

The UN report suggested that although agricultural productivity is on the rise, "poverty, inequality and distribution" continue to cause food shortages in many parts of the world.

The report, according to The Guardian, also noted that many pesticides are deployed on crops not considered vital to feeding the planet, such as soy or palm oil.

“Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger," Hilal Elver, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, told the paper.

The report added that acute pesticide poisoning contributed to an estimated 200,000 deaths each year and that pesticides caused "catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole" over the longer term.

The Guardian also reported that the UN officials criticized pesticide companies for downplaying the harmful effects of their products, engaging in "aggressive, unethical" marketing and lobbying to limit government limits and reforms.

“The power of the corporations over governments and over the scientific community is extremely important," Elver added. "If you want to deal with pesticides, you have to deal with the companies — that is why [we use] these harsh words."

The analysis recommended initiating efforts to establish a global treaty on pesticide use and encouraged organic farming, crop rotation and natural pest suppression methods.

Industry groups, meanwhile, rejected the report's claims and told The Guardian that without crop protection systems, farmers could lose up to 80 percent of their harvests to insects, weeds or disease.

“Pesticides play a key role in ensuring we have access to a healthy, safe, affordable and reliable food supply," the U.K.-based Crop Protection Association told the paper.

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