Five Facts About Pesticides & Cancer

Early December, PANAP and civil society organisations together with cancer survivors and patients among others, convened for a two-day roundtable discussion on Affordable Health Care to address the issue of rising costs due to a healthcare system which places a huge burden on patients and their families which was initiated by Klang MP Charles Santiago.

The treatment for breast cancer can cost up to a total RM395,000 for a single patient. Prof Dr Nirmala Bhoo-Pathy, a UM cancer epidemiologist has estimated on average the cost for breast cancer treatment can climb up to US$15,000 (approximately RM65,000) per year. This is a tough row to hoe for the patients who are already suffering.

PANAP's Chandrika Devi giving a presentation during the roundtable session shedding the light on how carcinogenic & tumor promoter pesticides impact livelihoods of people especially women & children. PANAP joined civil society organisations to discuss the plight of exorbitant cost of healthcare on vulnerable groups and how to address this issue.
PANAP’s Chandrika Devi giving a presentation during the roundtable session shedding the light on how carcinogenic & tumor promoter pesticides impact livelihoods of people especially women & children. PANAP joined civil society organisations to discuss the plight of exorbitant cost of healthcare on vulnerable groups and how to address this issue.

Little attention has been given on how carcinogenic pesticides have been wreaking havoc on people’s lives. Thus, the roundtable session further reaffirmed PANAP’s advocacy on adopting the precautionary principle in the fight against the unbearable increasing medical cost.

Precautionary principle grounds on the basis that the introduction of a new product or process whose ultimate effects are disputed or unknown should be resisted. Given that pesticides pose a wide array of health complications and certain implications of the use are still unknown, it is best to eliminate the use of highly hazardous pesticides(HHPs) in the best interest of all.

Here are 5 facts about pesticides that you might have not been aware of:

1. HHPs have been found in the surface water of rivers and tap water in Cameron Highlands, Pahang, Malaysia. The pesticides are residues of endosulfan, edrine ketone, aldrin and DDE — a derivative of the dangerous DDT. They have been finding their way to our food and drinking water. What is more appalling is that some of these pesticides have been prohibited from use both locally and internationally.

2. These pesticides are not only probable human carcinogens (agents directly involved in causing cancer) but could also cause a host of other often deadly health implications on a person. HHPs can be indicated by high acute toxicity, long term toxic effects, and as endocrine disruptors. Children and women are often on the frontline of the harmful effects of pesticides because of their physiology and sociopolitical status. In a 2015 study in Malaysia, children (aged 10 and 11 years) exposed to organophosphates (OP) and carbamates near rice paddy fields had poor neurodevelopment. Children also had lower cholinesterase levels, a clear indicator of OP poisoning.

3. The use of pesticides are inevitably pushing us into economic hardship as medical costs continue to skyrocket especially for cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, biopsy and biomarker testing. Lindane, permethrin, cypermethrin and captan are chemical pesticides that increase the risk of breast cancer.

Malaysian Klang MP Charles Santiago kick-started the roundtable session underscoring the need for a more affordable, accessible, sustainable and rights-focused health care for all.
Malaysian Klang MP Charles Santiago kick-started the roundtable session underscoring the need for a more affordable, accessible, sustainable and rights-focused health care for all.

4. Corporations are not being held accountable for the suffering they have created.Critics point the finger at the inequitable Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) regime which unfairly turns the table, giving leverage to big pharmaceutical corporations at the merciless expense of working and middle class patients and families. Some corporations selling HHPs are also involved in selling pharmaceutical drugs. For instance, Zeneca Chemicals (a subsidiary of ICI Chemicals) earn millions from the sales of carcinogenic pesticides (e.g acetochlor) on one hand, and as Astra Zeneca, from the breast cancer treatment drug tamoxifen on the other hand.

5. Lax regulations surrounding the use of HHPs by governments have been exploited or continue to be exploited with ongoing trade deals such as TPP (formerly) and RCEP. In the pursuit of trade liberalisation the human cost have been sidelined in favour of economic gains. IPR are further lobbied by agrochemical companies to enhance corporate monopoly on GMOs such as hybrid rice seeds. These seeds rely on the use of pesticides such as glyphosate (aka Roundup in trades) which are probable carcinogens to humans as classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Therefore, PANAP strongly calls governments and corporations to take concrete steps towards a phase-out and ban of HHPs, as they have been identified as probable carcinogens and significantly play a role in causing cancer and eventually pushing many to the brink of suffering. PANAP also advocates for agroecology as the appropriate approach to replace the use of HHPs on farms and agricultural sites.

1. Meriel Watts,2013, Breast Cancer, Pesticides and You!
2. PAN International Consolidated List Of Banned Pesticides
3. Is Your Medical Insurance Plan Sufficient For The Big C?
4. Children & Pesticides: Protect Our Children From Toxic Pesticides
5. Hashim,Z. & Baguma,B.2015. Environmental Exposure of Organophosphate
Pesticides Mixtures and Neurodevelopment of Primary School Children in Tanjung
Karang, Malaysia. Asia Pacific Environmental and Occupational Health

Averting Bhopal-like tragedies for the livelihoods children rightfully deserve

Every year on December 3, we are reminded of the horrors of the Union Carbide subsidiary pesticide plant in the city of Bhopal, India that exposed more than 500,000 lives to the deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas.

If anything at all, this tragedy should serve to remind us about the obligations we shoulder to protect and realize children’s right from exposure to toxic chemicals.

Children are on the frontline of these toxic assaults as industries inevitably contaminate most of the safe environments that children occupy. From the food they eat, water they drink, the air they inhale, to the grounds they fall and play, almost all in one way or another have been contaminated by persistent organic pollutants in the form of pesticides.

In September 2016, PAN in its submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has outlined recommendations for governments to address the problems of children’s exposure to highly hazardous pesticides.

Studies have revealed that innocuous exposures to low levels of pesticides, such as those that are commonly found as residues in food or drift on the wind, are posing threats to the health and wellbeing of children, and pushing them closer to a lifetime legacy of damage and failed potential.

In 2015, 11 children aged between two and six in Bangladesh became victims of pesticide poisoning. They suffered from fever and convulsions after eating fruits laced with pesticides before succumbing to their eventual death shortly after consuming what was supposed to be safe. These deaths are not isolated incidents. Children have been and continue to be harmed by the unforgiving effects of pesticides on them.

Children living in rural areas in particular are more exposed to pesticides. In a 2015 study in Malaysia, it was found that children aged between 10 and 11 exposed to organophosphate(OP) and carbamate type pesticides near the rice paddy fields had poor neurodevelopment. They had poor motor skills, poor hand/eye coordination, attention speed and perceptual motor speed compared to those who were not exposed. Children also had lower cholinesterase levels, a clear indicator of OP poisoning.

Horrendous tragedies such as Bhopal, Kasargod, Kamukhan and the death of Silvino Talavera, as well as the tragedies of everyday exposure that fly under the radar, will continue unless serious actions are taken to put an immediate halt to children’s exposure to highly hazardous pesticides.

The international chemicals conventions, national pesticide regulatory processes, and government policies which are primarily responsible to safeguard our children, are all, unfortunately, failing to do so.

PANAP’s recommendations to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on child rights and the environment was to urge governments and relevant stakeholders to change agricultural policy and practices to remove the assumption that pesticides are necessary. In addition, farmers are encouraged to move to agroecology (a biodiversity-based ecological agriculture) or organic agriculture and ensure that pest, weeds and diseases are managed by the methods that cause the least harm to humans and the environment (Principle of Precautionary and Minimum Harm).

Also, as an initial measure, to institute buffer zones for plantations or farms that use pesticides, and to monitor them regularly to ward off the effects of pesticide drift especially on children.

At the same time, a report of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes also reflected PAN’s call.

“When exposure does occur, children are too often left without access to an effective remedy or justice for harms related to toxics and pollution. The deadly, lifelong impacts of this assault on children’s bodies frequently remain invisible until later in their lives, making it difficult to prove how and when the damage was done, and enabling impunity for perpetrators.

“Solutions to the challenge of toxics and their impacts on children are available, but they must be rooted in human rights to be effective, including the obligation on States to prevent childhood exposure to toxic chemicals,” wrote the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Hazardous Substances and Wastes on his Duty to Prevent Childhood Exposure report.

The UN Special Rapporteur Baskut Tuncak has underscored the importance of both state obligation to prevent childhood exposure and business responsibility to prevent exposure by children to toxics.

States have obligations to protect children from toxic pesticide exposures. They are in the predominant position to safeguard a child’s right to a healthy and safe environment. States should adopt the precautionary and minimum harm principles to ensure the assaults are averted.

It has become clear that the problems we have today with children’s lives being continuously wrecked by pesticides are because of institutional failures to acknowledge that pesticides are not necessary.

Most governments and many scientists assume, often overlooking available evidence, that pesticides are necessary. Good science and a wealth of observational data have repeatedly shown that farmers can make more money and improve their food security and the health of their families and the environment by not using pesticides and practicing agroecology instead.

On the other hand, businesses or corporations too have a duty to prevent another pesticide tragedy that would threaten the already vulnerable population.

Agrichemical corporations can’t be kept on letting off the hook for the perpetuation of toxic pesticide assaults on children in the name of profit. Profit at the expense of innocent lives is deplorable and should not be condoned.

Although legislations have been in place for an environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, children continue to die from pesticide poisonings.

Baskut’s report read: “Children die with startling regularity from pesticide poisonings. A major contributor to this problem is that a large number of hazardous pesticides that present unmanageable risks are not banned or restricted at the global level. Another significant problem is the half a million tons of obsolete pesticides scattered across developing countries and seeping into soil and water.”

Bhopal-like tragedies would most certainly be well under their way due to the lax enforcements and an absence of greater political will to tackle this problem.

poc-petition-panap-panindiaBy ensuring governments take up the mandate to protect children from different childhood exposures and holding corrupt businesses publicly accountable would be paramount to provide the current generation and the many more to come the livelihoods they rightfully deserve — a livelihood free from toxic pesticide assaults.

PANAP and its partners are demanding state governments to institute pesticide-free buffer zones to protect children in the rural and agricultural area from the harmful effects of pesticide exposures.

Help to create awareness on pesticide-free buffer zones and realize that it can have the power to protect our future generations from the impacts of toxic pesticides.

Read more and sign the petition here.


In Solidarity Against DAPL To Protect Water & Children

The opposition to the construction of North Dakota Access Pipeline reflects the similar struggle in our region to protect our rivers and environment from pollutants.

State of rivers in particular has been a major concern given the fact that persistent organic pollutants in the form of pesticides were found in tap water and surface water of rivers in Malaysia.

A 2015 study by UKM on Organochlorine Pesticides Residue Level in Surface Water of Cameron Highlands, Malaysia revealed the staggering finding which was then disseminated in a seminar by PANAP.

These toxic pesticides found do not only contaminate the water sources but put humans in contact at severe health risks, particularly leaving deadly long-lasting impacts on vulnerable young children.

While, it is still not all doom and gloom when it comes to environmental advocacies, the struggle continues.

In Cameron Highlands, schools are also dangerously close to farms that have records of highly hazardous pesticide use. All the schools below are in Cameron highlands and are within 2km reach of farms.

SJK Ladang SG Palas is surrounded by farms
SJK Ladang SG Palas is surrounded by farms
SMK Ringlet is less than 2 km from farms
SMK Ringlet is less than 2 km from farms
SJK(C) Kea Farms is less than 2km from farms
SJK(C) Kea Farms is less than 2km from farms

There has been sufficient evidence that pinpoints how pesticides drift hundreds of meters from the area of use at health-harming concentrations for days and even weeks after application.

Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Minister Malaysia earlier this year said, “Expanding the river reserves from the minimum 10m to 20m would shield rivers from pollution due to human activities. This would also serve as a filter for mud, soil and solids washed down from hills, development and construction sites and agricultural land.”

Hence, the call for the reserve or buffer zone expansion comes as a significant milestone for environmental activism as well as for rural and tribal communities on the front line of struggle for the preservation of water resources. It shouldn’t stop here.

Earlier, Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh in the Malaysian Dewan Rakyat session argued that a research by experts from the year 2011 to 2013 “indicated that some of the pollutants found in the river were due to new usage”.Despite being banned some of the pesticides are still being widely used. The experts from the Center for Water Research & Analysis of UKM conducted another research to ascertain the level of pollutant concentration in the water supply, she added.

“A second project was initiated, which included a monitoring program beginning August 2014, samples were taken from 7 stations including one from a tap in Brinchang,” she said while reaffirming that the results also confirmed that pollutants were found in drinking tap water.

Hence, the buffer zones are required not only in the vicinity of rivers but their reach should be extended to other areas occupied by people as well. Homes, public spaces and schools especially with young children should have buffer zones too.

For an issue of such pressing nature, the responses from the other party lacked urgency. That in a way shed the light on how much of political will there is for a safer environment.

While the government is taking efforts to promote non-chemical alternatives such as the Malaysian Organic Certification Scheme or myOrganic, more support is needed. Support from both the public and other government agencies would further promote efforts to preserve water and provide safer zones for our children who are most prone to the toxic pesticide implications.

We stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in protecting the sanctity of our water which is important not only as our fundamental human need but to ensure our very existence, for future generations could be spared from jeopardy.

PANAP and its partners are also demanding state governments to institute pesticide-free buffer zones to protect children in the rural and agricultural area from the harmful effects of pesticide exposures.

Help to create awareness on pesticide-free buffer zones and realize that it can have the power to protect our future generations from the impacts of toxic pesticides.

Read more and sign the petition here.

Urge the state governments to institute pesticide-free buffer zones around schools

Dear Friends,

Can we still do more to protect children from toxic pesticides?

Yes we can! And you can definitely help by signing the petition and supporting our call for pesticide-free buffer zones around schools.

Schools are meant to be safe sanctuaries for children to learn and grow but terrifyingly children in Asia are consistently being poisoned in these supposedly safe learning environments. Children in schools are being exposed to pesticides via reckless aerial spraying and spray drifts that target their young developing bodies.

The world will celebrate International Children’s Day on November 20. Our partners across Asia and the Pacific are gearing up towards demanding local authorities to set up a 1 km or more buffer zones around their schools. You help bring about change by supporting them too!

Children must be protected from pesticide drifts. We do not want a repeat of the incidents in Mendocino and Ventura Counties (California, USA), Davao del Norte (Philippines), Nuwara Eliya District (Sri Lanka), and most recently in Po Ampil Primary School in Cambodia, where more than 30 children were poisoned by pesticides during schooling hours alone.

It is evident through numerous studies that pesticides negatively impact the life, health and intelligence of children and thus violate the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. CRC recognizes the child’s “inherent right to life” and that the survival and development of the child should be ensured to the “maximum extent possible”.

Available information show that pesticides drift hundreds of meters from the area of use at health-harming concentrations for days and even weeks after application, especially in rural areas in India, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Philippines, Sri Lanka and many other countries in Asia. 1.5 billion children in Asia are estimated to live in rural areas.

Children’s right to a healthy life should always be of utmost importance over any growing corporate interest. It is unacceptable that countries in Asia continue to be the toxic dump site of pesticides mainly peddled by developed countries. Inadequate laws and regulations in this region should be overhauled specifically for the best interest of our children.

Pesticides users and farms using pesticides in the vicinity of schools should be supported to move towards non-chemical alternatives and agroecology.

We, the PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) and its partners, together with the global community, thus ask the governments to declare pesticide-free buffer zones around schools that would protect children from harmful exposure to pesticides. As an initial risk reduction measure, the buffer zone must have at least a 1km radius.

Making this landmark declaration on the occasion of the International Children’s Day would be a meaningful gift to humanity.

Help us create awareness on pesticide-free buffer zones and realize that it can have the power to protect our future generations from toxic pesticides.

Please sign the petition at:


Hoping for your full support in this fight to protect our children,

Saro, Deeppa, Mila, Sathesh, and the PANAP family



Abdullah M. P., Abdul Aziz Y. F., Othman M. R., Wan MohdKhalik W. M. A. 2015. Organochlorine pesticides residue level in surface water of Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Iranica Journal of Energy and Environment 6 (2): 141-146.

Convention on the Rights of the Child.

FAO Corporate Document Repository. 2005. Proceedings of the Asia regional workshop on the implementation, monitoring and observance of the international code of conduct on the distribution and use of pesticides.

FAO and ILO. 2015. Protect children from pesticides.

National Toxics Network, Inc. 2009. The threat of pesticide spray drift.

Inquirer (Philippines). 79 downed by chemical fumes from Davao del Norte plantation: Pesticide Mocap produced by Bayer CropScience. November 30, 2006.

Interface Development Interventions, Inc. 2011. Liabilities of companies and public officers of the government for the non-observance and non-enforcement of buffer zones in specific banana plantation and its remedies.

Kegley S., Katten A. and Moses M. 2003. Secondhand pesticides: Airborne pesticide drift in California. PANNA.

KEMI 2015. Regional programme: Towards a non-toxic environment in South-East Asia phase II progress report.

Lopez, A. (nd). petition: Institute a 1 mile buffer zone between schools and spraying pesticides and at least a week’s notice to schools before spraying begins.

NTFAAS (nd). Rain of death: A briefer on the ban aerial spraying campaign.

Owens, K and Feldman, J. 2004. Getting the drift on chemical trespass: Pesticide drift hits homes, schools and other sensitive sites throughout the communities. 04/Getting the Drift on Chemical Trespass.pdf

PANAP. 2016. A pesticide free buffer zone needed in Po Ampil Primary School, Takeo Province, Cambodia.

Po Ampil Primary School, Cambodia (p.69 of the KEMI Report 2015)

Poisoned Schoolchildren in Sri Lanka

US EPA 735-F-07-003. Pesticides and their impact on children: Key facts and talking points.

US EPA. 2015. Literature review on neurodevelopmental effects and FQPA safety factor determination for the organophosphate pesticides.

Watts, M. 2013. Poisoning our future: Children and pesticides. PANAP.

A Pesticide Free Buffer Zone Needed in Po Ampil Primary School, Takeo Province, Cambodia

Po Ampil School, in Takeo Province. Photo by Maran Perianen

“We smelled something bad and ran out of classes. Some of us had headaches, felt like vomiting and felt dizzy” said students of Po Ampil School, Takeo Province, Cambodia. They experienced these symptoms after the field near by their classrooms were sprayed by pesticides. Almost 30 students reported these symptoms. Over the years, school children have been poisoned by pesticides. In 2014, teachers from Po Ampil School approached Keam Makarady of CEDAC to conduct awareness workshops for children, and teachers. Teachers were concerned about dangers of pesticides after attending the No Pesticide Use Week event organized by CEDAC.

School is surrounded by farms. Photo by Maran Perianen
Google map of Po Ampil Primary School. CEDAC monitored the pesticides used in various villages in Sambour commune. Pesticides found include chlorpyrifos, glyphosate, lamda-cyhalothrin and cypermethrin, which have been linked to harmful effects on growing children. Children have been reported to be poisoned by pesticides during schooling hours in Po Ampil Primary School which is surrounded by farms. Annex 1 has a full list of pesticides found.

The past two years, No Pesticide Use Week Campaign has been aimed to protect our children from toxic pesticides (POC). Workshops on POC were held at Po Ampil primary school, Takeo province to highlight the impacts of pesticides that were found in the school during the campaign. There were 69 people (30 women) who participated in this event including farmers, students, teacher and local authorities.

Children are more vulnerable to pesticides, as per unit body weight they breathe more air, eat more food and drink more water. Long term impacts of pesticide exposure are linked to childhood cancer, autism, lowering of I.Q and other learning disorders among children.

Children in rural areas are often more vulnerable to the exposure to pesticides as they walk barefoot and are more exposed to pesticides than urban children.

Pesticide poisonings have been a growing concern in Cambodia, where more than 400 children were poisoned by pesticides last year due to contaminated sandwiches.

Photo: Maran Perianen

“Our school located in Po village, Sambour commune, Traing district, Takeo province. The school is surrounded by paddy fields and rice is harvested three times a year. There are a lot of pest attacks during the cultivation of rice and many types of pesticides are being sprayed to control pest. The use of pesticides has affected the environment, the people and my students as well. My students have reported feeling dizzy, nauseated and some were not well. After the incident, I shared my concerns with the local authorities and the surrounding farmers. As a result, they only spray on Sunday to protect the children during schooling hours.” – Teacher of Po Ampil School. Video Link

Discussion are underway for pesticide free buffer zones in this school among CEDAC and the teachers.

School children of Po Ampil expressed their concerns about the harmful effects of pesticides during the POC workshop in 2015. Photo by CEDAC.

When local farmers were interviewed by CEDAC and PANAP many of them expressed that they were not aware of other alternatives. One farmers said “We sell our rice Vietnamese wholesalers as they are near to the borders.” High yielding rice varieties grown by the farmers require more chemical fertilizer and pesticides use as they are more prone to pest attacks as compared to local varieties said Keam Makarday.

Many of the famers interviewed said they were also poisoned in various degrees. One farmer had to go all the way to Vietnam to seek medical treatment. New plans are on the way to engage the community in Takeo on agroecology practices to protect the children and environment against pesticides.

Annex 1: List of pesticides sold and used in Takeo
Annex 1: List of pesticides sold and used in Takeo

Table Legends

WHO class 1a : Extremely Hazardous
WHO class 1b : Highly Hazardous
EU R26: very toxic by inhalation (R26) according to EU Directive 67/548 5
Muta (EU 1,2): substances known to be mutagenic to man (category 1) / substances which should be regarded as if they are mutagenic to man (category 2), according to EU Directive 67/548
Repro (EU 1,2): substances known to impair fertility in humans (Category 1) / substances which should be regarded as if they impair fertility in humans and/or substances which should be regarded as if they cause developmental toxicity to humans (category 2), according to EU Directive 67/548
EU EDC= endocrine disruptor
ChE Inh= cholesterase inhibitor

vB: very bio accumulative, according to REACh criteria as listed by FOOTPRINT (BCF>5000)
vP: very persistent, according to REACh criteria as listed by FOOTPRINT (half-life > 60 d in marine – or freshwater of half-life >180 d in marine or freshwater sediment

HHP = listed on highly hazardous pesticide list
T20 = listed on 20 terrible pesticides that are toxic to children

Kadrinche*: Turning Bhutanese

Blog by Danica Castillo

Bhutan is a small country with a total of 47,000 sq km land area and a total population 700,000 people relying mainly on agriculture and forestry as a means of livelihood. Apart from the lush greeneries and colourful temples, Bhutan takes pride of its well-preserved culture, tradition and the principle of “Gross National Happiness” (GNH).

I went to Bhutan as a participant to the Chula University Right Livelihood Summer School (CURLS). It is a study-cultural exchange to learn more about food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture in the context of the Bhutanese culture. I was excited to be in the trip because I have learned beforehand that Bhutan is a carbon-negative country with a self-sustaining agricultural system – something most countries should emulate nowadays.

The writer on far-right together together with some of her fellow group-mates wearing Kira at the College of Natural Resouces.
The writer on far-right together together with some of her fellow group-mates wearing Kira at the College of Natural Resouces.

The trip started off in the Royal University of Bhutan where my fellow participants and I were given an overview of the country. This is where we have learned that the Bhutanese constitution ensures protection of the forestry and that it has remained independent versus the WTO, IMF and the World Bank.

There were 25 participants in the CURLS coming from different countries around the world. It is safe to say that the village trip is the most memorable part of our trip to Bhutan. We lived in three separate villages for three (3) nights and three (3) days. We were accommodated by our hosts wherein we lived with, shared their food as well as their stories.

The writer with some of her fellow group-mates watching a villager make an organic, homemade butter straight from her own livestock.

We entered the village wearing traditional costumes for women called Kira. Kira is a three-piece clothing with ankle-length skirt, an inner long sleeve blouse and an outer long sleeve blouse clasped together by a Kira belt and fancy brooches. The fabric is usually made from warm, hand-woven cotton – perfect for the chilly weather.

We stayed with the family of Amm Khandu in Jazhika village, Shengana, Punakkha Valley. She is a 43 year old woman and is the head of her household. Her livestock is a constant source of fresh milk, butter, cheese and eggs every day for the whole village.  She, her family and other neighbours work together in the farm.

Amm Khandu serving traditional Bhutanese snack as she welcome the writer and her group mates in her house.
Amm Khandu serving traditional Bhutanese snack as she welcome the writer and her group mates in her house.

The young help feed the chickens and cows from kitchen scraps and pick edible mushrooms from the forest. The older people keeps traditional seeds and farming methods. Her neighbor’s elder keeps a heirloom of traditional seeds consisting of beans, cucumber and different variety of chilies.

She practices organic farming and enjoys bountiful harvests from her rice and buckwheat farm of three (3) hectares. True to their natural and organic lifestyle, Bhutanese farmers usually use the combination of ashes (from burnt wood and leaves) and neem oil as pesticides.

I have also learned that their government gives them a lot of support such as free water supply, farming inputs and sometimes even livestock. Farmers are also encouraged to join the community forest group as their contribution to conserve and protect their country’s natural resources.

Amm Khandu watches over her son (on the left) and her nephew (on the right) as they draw a map of their village
Amm Khandu watches over her son (on the left) and her nephew (on the right) as they draw a map of their village

Children enjoy free education and medication. I saw them roaming freely and happily around farms, hiking within the hills, playing in the river and sometimes even in the forest when accompanied by a guardian. Indeed, a bright and pesticides-free future awaits them.


*Kadrinche means “thank you” in Dzongkha, Bhutan’s national language

11 Questions we asked Dr. Meriel Watts


Agrochemicals like pesticides have contributed in the massive destruction of the environment including acute and chronic impacts on livestock, soil fertility, and pollinators like bees and other beneficial insects necessary for a stable, healthy and productive ecosystem.

Aside from environmental destruction, there is no question as well on the harmful impact of pesticides on human health and that the people of poor countries are worst affected. It is also in these countries that two of the most vulnerable groups — women and children — are most exposed.

Research shows there’s a link between the indiscriminate use of highly hazardous pesticides and infertility, birth defects and miscarriages. Endocrine disruptors from pesticides can mutate genes, even causing epigenetic (or heritable changes in gene expression) effects – potentially putting future generations at risk.The good news is there are alternatives to chemical-intensive agriculture. One is agroecology.

The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) has long promoted agroecology, which has shown to increase farm productivity and food security. Innovative, environmentally-friendly and communal, agroecology improves rural livelihoods and is adaptive to threats such as climate change.

In this exclusive interview, coordinator of PAN Aotearoa New Zealand, a steering council member of PAN AP, renowned activist and pesticide specialist Dr. Meriel Watts expands on agroecology, shares her experiences in practicing it, and details its many benefits. Her recent talk on agroecology is available here and her latest book, co- written with Stephanie Williamson, titled Replacing Chemicals with Biology: Phasing out Highly Hazardous Pesticides with Agroecology is available here.



1.How long have you been farming?

For thirteen years on our own farm, Tidal Organics but off and on throughout my life working on other people’s farms.

2. What kind of education or career did you pursue before farming?

Although I was city-raised, I always wanted to be a farmer, since my earliest memories. I would spend school holidays on my uncle’s dairy farm.

I worked on farms in New Zealand as soon as I left school, then completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Science. After that I worked for a while in plant disease research for the Government. I moved to the United Kingdom and worked on farms there, and eventually joined a medical laboratory. When I came back to New Zealand, after a little more farm work my life became urban for a while and I began growing my own vegetables (this was about 40 years ago!)

Then I trained in natural medicine including herbal medicine, homeopathy and nutrition, and established a practice treating people (and farm animals), as well as teaching young mums how to treat their sick children. When I began treating people with pesticide poisoning, I realised that something need to be done to stop people getting poisoned in the first place. So at that stage, about 25 years ago, I began my life’s work as a pesticide activist and advocate for organic farming, both streams of work continuing to this day.

During this time I completed a PhD in pesticide risk assessment and policy, sat on numerous Government committees on pesticides, worked for Greenpeace, the Soil & Health Association and Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PANAP). At the same time I took a leading role in the organics sector in New Zealand. So my working life has been, and always will be, a happy blend of human health issues and agricultural issues – both the negative impacts and the positive pathways – because of course all are totally connected, although today these four areas are still mostly not brought together in policy, training or work areas. The silo approach to life still dominates.

3.Why do you feel that it is important to use agroecological systems in farming?

Well, the first thing is that it challenges the silo approach: it brings people to see their farms, their families, their communities and the environment as an interconnected whole. Once they see that, they understand that using toxic pesticides poisons the environment, endangers their own health, and undermines the sustainability of farm production. Agroecology gives farmers greater control over their production; they do not have to rely on expensive input to produce cash crops that don’t really feed the family. Agroecology enables them to use local resources to provide healthy food and a cash surplus.

4. What does agroecology mean for you?

It means the farmer and family and community working together with the land in a way that best utilises the particular climatic and geographic characteristics of this land to produce healthy food in a way that improves sustainability and biodiversity and the overall functioning of the agroecosystem. It means farmers and their families and communities having greater control over their own lives.


5. You have documented many cases of successful methods of farming based on agroecology from all over the world in the book Replacing Chemicals with Biology: Phasing Out Highly Hazardous Pesticides with Agroecology. What is the key lesson you learned writing this book?

The utmost importance of farmer-to-farmer learning and the sharing of knowledge and experiences.

6. What personal characteristics do you have that drew you to (and keeps you motivated on) farming?

Determination; an enquiring mind; joy in solving problems.

7. What is the biggest challenge in farming right now?

The variability and unpredictability of the climate. For example, this year our forecast was for for a very serious prolonged drought; instead it has rained so much that we had problems with fruit rot for the first time ever. Grapes would not ripen and the olive harvest looks to be a disaster. What was normally a ‘Mediterranean’ summer – hot and dry – has become a hot and wet tropical summer. We have no idea what the next season will bring so it is very hard to plan crops.

8. What is the most difficult part in terms of gaining ground against corporate giants that promote pesticides?

The power they have over people’s minds. People want to believe that the food they are eating or the Roundup they spray in their backyards is safe because it is easy, so they believe it. They don’t want to question what they have always assumed to be safe. They don’t want to worry about chemicals, so they close their minds. If only people would open their minds, the corporations would lose their power. We, the people, actually do have greater power than these businesses through our choices as consumers (that includes farmers buying inputs) but we don’t exercise it. If consumers stopped buying chemically-produced and highly processed food, farmers would soon change to agroecology.

9. What does it mean to you to be able to farm?

Everything: producing healthy food for people in our community is central to my being.

10. What has been the biggest reward from agroecological farming?

For me, the biggest reward is the gratitude and smiles when people come to our place to collect their weekly order of fresh healthy fruit, vegetables and herbs. That, and sitting down in the evening to a big plate of organic vegetables straight from the garden. I want food that is healthy, fresh, grown without poisons, nurturing and sustaining; and that everyone has the right to such food.

11. How would you encourage other farmers to adopt agroecological practices?

Constantly observe everything on your farm; observe what other agroecological farmers are doing; ask questions. Make compost. Do not reach for a spray when you see an insect, but learn which ones are your friends and which ones you need to control. Look for smart control options, like traps.

Photo Credit : Jo Davies


Meriel’s Latest Talk on Phasing Out Highly Hazardous Pesticides with Agroecology is here !


April is autism awareness month


April is Autism Awareness Month, and there is growing evidence between the link of pesticides and autism. Autism affects 1 in 68 children in the United States, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a set of disorders in the brain functions that leads to by impaired social interaction, restricted communication and repetitive stereotypic behaviours.
It is generally believed that ASD arises from alterations to specific brain structures during critical windows of vulnerability during fetal development. These rates are so alarming that this would be described as a pandemic according to key researchers and public health experts.
Pesticides are now registered as leading causes of autism with both organophosphates (OPs) and organochlorides (OCs) listed in the top ten causes along with other heavy metals (Landrigan et al 2012). Even small amounts of pesticides can lead to a higher risk factor of developing ASD (Eskenazi et al ,2007)
In many parts of Asia children and school staff of child bearing age are exposed to pesticides to pesticides near schools, through their diet and their environments. In rural areas, poverty forces children work on farms and plantations. Children are,then, exposed to pesticide spray drifts from farms and also sprayed on aerially eg. Philippines.

In Various Parts of Asia, the Numbers Are Alarming

Prevalence is hard to establish and estimates have varied widely, although in 2006 they were reported to be around 0.6precent of the population; with one recent UK estimate of 1.1 percent. In 2012, the rate in the US was reported as 11 percent (Landrigan et al 2012). A survey of 7 to 12-year-old children in South Korea, the prevalence of ASD was found to be a surprisingly high 2.64 percent (Kim et al 2011). In Australia rate: 45 cases per 10,000 people; 7th highest in the world. Also, Japan is considered to have the highest autism rate in the world: 181.1 cases per 10,000 people.

The number of children diagnosed with ASD is trending upwards, now at 31 percent of NDIS participants which comprises the largest disability group in the scheme; according to the NDIS Quarterly Report in June 2015. There was considerable variation across age groups, with a marked drop-off after peaking in the 5-9-year-old age group.  Also, Japan is considered to have the highest autism rate in the world: 181.1 cases per 10,000 people. A recent study has pegged the prevalence at 0.16 percent, previously it was reported around 0.04 percent and 0.05 percent.

Number of cases individuals of autism recorded by the Autism Society of America in 2007.



(Source: The Autism Society of America, 2007)

A growing number of epidemiological studies are the linking exposure to pesticide drifts to chronic conditions in children such as autism spectrum disorders (Roberts et al 2007).

Other studies have found: –

Children are exposed to pesticides via spray drift are at a higher risk of developing ASD. An investigation of the influence of pesticide drift into homes near agricultural fields in the US found a strong association between ASD in children and their mothers residing near fields where endosulfan and/or dicofol were sprayed in the periods just before and during fetal development of the central nervous system (weeks 1-8). The risk of ASD increased with the quantity of pesticide used and proximity of home to the fields being treated. Children, whose mothers were living within 500 metres of these fields, had more than a 60precent increased risk of ASD (Roberts et al 2007).

Children living in rural areas are further exposed to the impacts of pesticides. In 2015, a study in Malaysia found that children aged 10 to 11 years were exposed to pesticides like OPs and carbamates near rice paddy fields had poor motor skills, poor hand/eye coordination, attention speed and perceptual motor speed due to organophosphate and carbamate pesticide exposure. Children also had lower cholinesterase levels which is also indicator of pesticide poisoning.

What can you do to prevent Autism?

In developing Asian countries, such as Vietnam, India, Malaysia; many types of pesticides including brain harming pesticides like chlorpyrifos are readily available and still widely used. Brain harming organophosphate pesticides like chloropyrifos and monocrotophos, on the list of terrible twenty are still manufactured by DOW and is widely used around the world.

In Asia, awareness for ASD is increasing in many countries such as Malaysia, China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, etc. however this is not enough. Communities and concerned parents and teachers need to take concerted action to protect children from toxic pesticides by: –

• Limit and prevent exposure to pesticides by creating buffer zones around schools and consuming pesticides free food as much as possible
• Support agroecological measures, and the farmers that choose to farm without pesticides. This can include biological pest control, crop rotation, etc. This will ensure that no pesticide residue get on to the fruits and vegetables we eat.
• Also, call upon government officials to outright ban and phase out highly-hazardous pesticides usage in agricultural areas. We call upon you to sign this petition.


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Dua, N. (2010, February 25). Pesticides pose health risks. Retrieved April 11, 2016, from

FFTC Publication Database Food and Fertilizer Technology Center. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2016, from

Levin ED, Timofeeva OA, Yang L, Petro A, Ryde IT, Wrench N, et al. 2009. Early postnatal parathion exposure in rats causes sex-selective cognitive impairment and neurotransmitter defects which emerge in aging. Behav Brain Res 208(2):319–327.

Moon, J., Chun, B., & Lee, S. (2015, February 23). Variable response of cholinesterase activities following human exposure to different types of organophosphates. Retrieved April 11, 2016, from

Pesticides and health hazards Facts and figures [PDF]. (2012). Hamburg, Germany: PAN Germany.

Relate to Autism: Helping parents help children. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2016, from

Shelton, J. F., Hertz-Picciotto, I., & Pessah, I. N. (2012, July 1). EHP – Tipping the Balance of Autism Risk: Potential Mechanisms Linking Pesticides and Autism. Retrieved April 12, 2016, from

Ting, T. X., Lee, L. W., Low, H. M., Kok, N. H., & Chee, A. K. (2014). Prevalence, diagnosis, treatment and research on autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in Singapore and Malaysia [PDF]. The International Journal of Special Education.

Watts, M. (2013). Poisining Our Future: Children And Pesticides [PDF]. Penang, Malaysia: Pesticide Action Network Asia & the Pacific.

Won, J. L., & Eun, S. C. (2009). J Rural Med 2009; 4 (2): 53ñ58 ©2009 The Japanese Association of Rural Medicine Review Overview of Pesticide Poisoning in South Korea [Scholarly project]. In The Berne Declaration. Retrieved April 11, 2016, from

Z.A., Z. N., Hashim, Z., & D, B. (2015). Environmental Exposure of Organophosphate Pesticides Mixtures and Neurodevelopment of Primary School Children In Tanjung Karang, Malaysia [PDF]. University Putra Malaysia, Selangor, Malaysia: Asia Pacific Environmental and Occupational Health Journal.

Empowered Farmers Ensure Food Safety

“Farming without pesticides is far more economical and safer for farmers and consumers. This has led me to harvest my first pesticides-free crop of cabbages,” thus said Mr. Vellusamy who had undergone the Farmer Field School (FFS) carried out in Blue Valley, Cameron Highlands in 2015.

The FFS is an initiative by the PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) that aims to develop the capacity of farmers in making informed decisions based on their experience of observing, conducting experiments and monitoring of their farms. It also involves the participation of scientists, extension officers and experts in the field of agriculture to provide input and work with the farmers for viable solutions to the problems they face on the farm.

The focus of this particular FFS in Blue Valley was to incorporate biological control instead of harmful pesticides to deal with the infestation of the Diamond Back Moth among cabbages. According to a published research by entomologist Dr Peter Ooi, the moth causes significant damage to the crop and was discovered as early as 1925 in Cameron Highlands.

Learn making organic liquid fertiliser.

PANAP started the FFS to help farmers lessen their dependency on chemical inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers manufactured by agribusiness which put our food safety in danger. Farmers also often lose their ability to make sound decisions based on their knowledge of agriculture and instead rely entirely on agriculture extension officers, and sellers as well as distributors of agrochemicals to carry out their agriculture practice. Clearly, it is profitable for agribusinesses but not the farmers who put themselves and consumers at great risk by using these chemical inputs.

The ramification of pesticides usage in Cameron Highlands was revealed in a study conducted by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in Cameron Highlands from 2014 to 2015. The study discovered that the rivers and tap water in Cameron had traces of highly toxic persistent organic pollutants such as endosulfan, which have been banned in Malaysia and globally under the Stockholm Convention.

The FFS in Blue Valley is part of the campaign, ‘Protect Our Children from Toxic Pesticides’ to raise awareness about the harmful impact of pesticides on human health particularly children. “These hazardous pesticides are extremely toxic to children and are linked to birth defects, learning disabilities, lowered I.Q. scores and cancer” said Deeppa Ravindran, Coordinator of the Protect Our Children from Toxic Pesticides Campaign.

“We must not lose sight of how profit-driven, corporate agricultural production dictates the type of food available, most of which have been produced with heavy dosage of pesticides that damage the environment and people’s health, especially children,” said PANAP executive director Sarojeni Rengam.

Recently, PANAP published ‘Replacing Chemicals with Biology:Phasing out highly hazardous pesticides with Agroecology’ which provides a wealth of case studies and data that proves farmers can make more money, ensure food safety and improve their health, and protect the environment by not using pesticides. PANAP along with Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International has also started a global petition urging governments and corporations to take concrete steps towards the phaseout and ban of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) and to replace these with safe, sustainable and ecological alternative methods of pest control in order to protect children’s health.

Please contact Wong Pei Chin at 017 725 1758 or for further details.

PANAP renews call for tighter regulation of agrochemicals and ban of highly hazardous pesticides amid batu gajah poisoning


PENANG, Malaysia – PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) today renewed its call for authorities to more tightly regulate agrochemicals and ban the highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) amid reports of pesticide poisoning in Siputeh, Batu Gajah in Ipoh. Thirty seven people, aged two to 71, were rushed to the hospital – with four in critical condition – after eating food apparently contaminated with the pesticides from carbamate group from a local stall last 4 March. Weedicides were also traced near the premises.

“The tragedy illustrates the toxic effects of pesticides that are often acute and irreversible,” PANAP Executive Director, Sarojeni Rengam said. She also noted that the test conducted by the Department of Chemistry did not identify the specific type of pesticide but only looked at the general chemical group called carbamates.

“Therefore, we call for more stringent tests to identify the particular pesticide behind the poisoning for more rigorous regulation and hopefully, even making the manufacturers accountable,” added Rengam.

Pesticides from the carbamate group are generally neurotoxic and have been associated with adverse effects on human development, affecting both babies and children.

“People and children are continuously being poisoned by pesticides, and children are particularly more vulnerable. This must stop and authorities need to make necessary steps to protect and give children a save and healthy environment “ says Deeppa Ravindran, coordinator of the Protect Our Children from Toxic Pesticides Campaign.

Pesticides are widely rampant and sold in Malaysia, in the recent study done by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) in Cameron Highlands found highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) like Endrin,Aldrin, DDE and Endosulfan has been found in drinking water.

PANAP, together with PAN International, and other groups have launched an appeal to ban HHPs worldwide. More than 430 organizations from over 80 countries in all regions of the world have already signed the appeal. “We urge the public to support our campaign and sign the petition. The incident in Batu Gajah makes even more compelling our collective appeal to the government and agrochemical corporations to phase out the HHPs and protect our people, especially the children,” said Rengam. ###

Petition Link >>  HERE

For more information, please contact Deeppa Ravindran:

*Image courtesy of Keerati at