Trade in hazardous technology and hazardous products between developed and less developed countries (LDCs) has caused increasing national and international concern for human health and the environment.
Pesticide related issues have been increasingly and extensively highlighted in the media including research journals and have attracted sharp focus among the world policy makers.
Indiscriminate and excessive use of toxic synthetic pesticides damage not only the environment and agriculture but have also entered into the food chain thereby affecting all living beings.
(WHO, 1986), estimated that millions of people were being poisoned annually with about 20,000 cases resulting in death.
Much of the problem came from the toxicity of the pesticides used on large plantations as well as by many small-scale farmers, without adequate knowledge and failing to adequately protect themselves during pesticide applications.
Pesticide application has caused serious health problems but blames are usually laid on pesticides without considering the way the pesticides are applied.
Concerns about Hazardous Pesticides and Weak Regulations
International and private efforts have been thwarted by similar complexities. International and private efforts are often in the form of non-enforceable policy statements regarding standards and guidelines for hazardous trade.
This often creates a major impediment to meaningful changes in current chemical trade practices. As a result, international and private efforts are effective only to the extent that each participating party cooperates and enforces the established policies.
The Tris Scandal
Inthe United States this concern was first aroused in 1977 by the scandal surrounding Tris, a flame retardant chemical used in treating clothing. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) discovered that Tris was a carcinogen and banned its use in the U.S. market in 1977.
After the U.S. market ban, however, sleepwear manufacturers exported Tris- treated garments for use abroad. Much to the dismay of Congress and the public, the Government Operations Committee found that existing law did not regulate or prohibit the manufacture and trade of hazardous products produced solely for export.
The Tris scandal prompted a national debate over the means of enhancing governmental control over U.S. exports of hazardous products. As a result of this debate, Congress passed laws requiring federal agencies to track hazardous exports by
U.S. manufacturers. The new laws further require U.S. manufacturers to inform importing countries of the nature of the exported hazardous substances. There have also been international efforts to create uniform standards and procedures for hazardous technology trade.
These regulatory reforms, however, have regulated hazardous chemical trade insufficiently and have failed to protect foreign and domestic consumers from chemically tainted products, particularly in trade between developed countries and LDCs.
The Alar and Chilean grape crises
This insufficiency was most recently demonstrated in the Alar and Chilean grape crises in 1989. These incidents, discussed below, illustrate for different reasons how vulnerable domestic and imported foods are to chemical contamination.
Alar is a trade name for a chemical chiefly used in treating red eating apples.Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suspected Alar to be a cancer-causing chemical as early as the mid 1970s, it failed to take decisive action.The chemical manufacturer voluntarily withdrew Alar’s use only after tremendous public outcry.
The Chilean grape incident did not involve the sanctioned use of chemical additives, but it illustrates how inept the current regulatory procedures are in protecting consumers from tainted foods. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acted upon an anonymous tip and detected two Chilean grapes which had been contaminated with cyanide.
The FDA warned consumers not to eat imported Chilean foods while it conducted an investigation. When it detected no further traces of cyanide poisoning, the FDA continued its normal inspection practice whereby only one percent of all imported food shipments are examined. The current domestic regulatory scheme is complicated by three factors:
The involvement of several different regulatory agencies, whose agendas, policies, and goals often conflict;
The legal and diplomatic questions regarding U.S. jurisdiction over corporate activity abroad;
A strong industrial lobby which effectively resists increased regulations.