ROME, 7 March 2019 – “It is clear from the available evidence that the issue of chemicals in our food is a matter of democracy. The freedom of citizens from harm should be guaranteed. That is what communities are fighting for around the world. An important aspect of democracy is the protection of the common good and the common interest. Whenever people are given a chance to voice their democratic rights, there is an opposite reaction to silence them. Democracy, like everything that lives, grows from the bottom up, as enshrined in the subsidiarity principle of the European Union. When that is not the case, this principle is violated. This was how Vandana Shiva, president of Navdanya International, opened the Press Conference at the Italian Chamber of Deputies for the launch of the global campaign Poison-free Food and Farming 2030.
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Vandana Shiva pointed out that the Campaign is an invitation to create a unified movement for change. It is addressed to all women, men and young generations, citizens and people in institutions, indigenous people everywhere, farmers, producers and consumers of food, local communities north and south, from the local to the global, who are already mobilizing to defend our planet, and ensure a living future for generations to come.
Representatives of local movements that are protesting against the massive use of pesticides that is poisoning the Italian countryside attended the conference.
The San Giacomo Kindergarten Parents Board, of San Giacomo di Veglia, a village near Vittorio Veneto, also gave their testimony: “We are the parents of children attending a kindergarten that risks to be closed because of an adjacent vineyard which is being planted despite a Municipal Order to suspend the works. Last year we collected 2000 signatures also signed by other farmers who oppose the decision of the property owners. The mayor of Vittorio Veneto has also approved a resolution prohibiting the agricultural use in the area because part of it is covered by legislation regarding areas of social interest (zone F). The preparation of the vineyard has continued despite every legitimate effort to stop it, and the planting of young vines in the field next to the kindergarten is already happening. This is a typical case of a company putting financial gain before people’s rights. These are not traditional farmers, but entrepreneurs who want to invest in the business of prosecco. The Prefect of Treviso himself has defined them in the press as “loose cannons”. Even the wine-growers’ association has expressed its disagreement, because – according to them – farming this way and arrogant attitudes undermine the credibility of the organization. Considering that the region is once again a candidate to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a judge will decide on the fate of the vineyard and our kindergarten, but we parents will continue to fight, because health is a constitutional right”.
Tiziano Quaini – coordinator of the Associazione Veneta dei Produttori Biologici e Biodinamici (Venetian Association of Organic and Biodynamic Producers) – spoke on behalf of the Pesticide Stop March , giving voice to the inhabitants of the countryside poisoned by industrial agriculture: “The march began 3 years ago from Veneto, Treviso, and Alto Adige, the places most affected by monocultures and pesticides. We are talking about more than a thousand Kg per hectare. In Verona, the vineyards have reached an altitude of 800 meters. Instead of pastures and huts, there are vineyards and cellars. The mountains are also being polluted. It’s not “heroic agriculture” as it is called, the heroes are organic farmers. There will be 7 marches this year, from Veneto, to Trentino Alto Adige, to Romagna, to Tuscany, with hundreds of associations. Moreover, every year we, organic farmers, have to give up part of our production because of the contamination of pesticides from our neighbors. We invite everyone to take part in this year’s march, which will be held on 19 May”.
Ulrich Veith – Mayor of Mals, in Val Venosta, South Tyrol, spoke on behalf of its inhabitants, who chose to ban the use of pesticides throughout the municipality by means of a referendum thanks also to the political commitment and involvement of citizens. The referendum result is being challenged by the Regional Administrative Court: “The message that pesticides are not good for us and for nature was already heard many years ago. In South Tyrol, the average use of pesticides per hectare is much higher than in the rest of Italy due to apple monocultures. In the referendum, more than 70% of the population participated and 76% said no to pesticides. Organic farming is increasing, but still many pesticides are used. For us, freeing the municipality from pesticides is the only thing to do. Tomorrow we will hold a press conference in Mals to share the results of research we have done on the ground. Even in the areas that are far from the fields there are up to 14 different pesticides. We are committed and will continue on this path anyway, and hope that help will come from Rome because from Bozen it is very difficult”.
Claudio Bizzotto, organic farmer and representative of “Terra Chiama” association said: “I left Bassano del Grappa this morning by train to come to Rome and I crossed more than half of our Country. I was moved to see how this landscape is so rich and diverse. We have these resources right under our feet and in our hands, we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. I’ve been practicing organic farming since before it was defined that way. Today many young people come to my farm to ask me to teach them how to do it. My prayer to politicians: let’s make a “revolution”, I mean the thing that farmers do in October in the country when the ground is trampled too much; let’s turn the land over to oxygenate the real farmers, who are the microorganisms of the ecosystem. With Terra Chiama we want change to start with our citizens. If we are able to make a new alliance with the earth, we will have prosperity and well-being for all.
As highlighted during the conference, international reports have attested that a major contributer to biodiversity loss is industrial agriculture, which has changed the use and management of land and water, as well as deforestation and other abuses that are typical of the globalized industrialized food system. FAO’s most recent report on the state of global biodiversity for food and agriculture as well as a recent global analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, have highlighted data and ways in which global biodiversity is drastically decreasing. Insects are becoming extinct worldwide at such a worrying rate that they could cause a “catastrophic collapse of natural ecosystems”. It is no coincidence that the United Nations General Assembly itself has declared that the decade between 2021 and 2030 must be dedicated to ecosystems regeneration and has issued a strong global “call for action” to mobilize the necessary political and financial support.
As Vandana Shiva also pointed out, our food security and survival are in fact based on the conservation of biodiversity, which is threatened by what scientists call “the sixth mass extinction“. These are the same factors that are contributing to climate change. Thousands of studies have confirmed the damage to human health caused by the indiscriminate use of synthetic chemicals in agriculture. Now there is evidence of a strong correlation between exposure to pesticides and steadily increasing chronic degenerative diseases.
Patrizia Gentilini, oncologist and hematologist, member of the scientific committee of ISDE, International Association of Doctors for the Environment confirmed that “Scientific research unequivocally demonstrates that any exposure to pesticides is a causal factor in the increase in the incidence of: cancer, respiratory diseases, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), autism, attention deficit and hyperactivity, diabetes, infertility, reproductive disorders, fetal malformations, metabolic and thyroid dysfunctions. In particular, children are more susceptible to exposure in the stage of pregnancy, which can cause major neurological damage, such as decreased IQ and autism. As doctors for the environment we work for food without pesticide residues. Politics must support any initiative in favor of public health”.
Davide Marino – Roma Tre University, explained how health problems related to the use of pesticides are only one piece of the most complex picture of food systems: from production, to processing, to distribution, to waste management. As an example of a sick system he reminded us that: “In Italy, an average of 530 kg of different chemical compounds are used per hectare, i.e. 50 g per kg of cultivated products. We are experiencing a ‘food paradox’, with 2 billion people with problems related to over-feeding, such as obesity, diabetes, food intolerances on the one hand, and 800 million who suffer from hunger and malnutrition on the other. Policies need to address the issue of food from a broad perspective: from production, to processing, to distribution, to consumption and to post-consumption. The globalized agro-industrial system reduces biodiversity, concentrates wealth in the hands of a few, while the incomes of small farmers who, according to FAO, produce 75% of the world’s food are increasingly reduced”.
How much does conventional farming actually cost us? Who pays for these costs? Nadia El-Hage Scialabba – TMG Think tank for Sustainability-Berlin, with 30 years of experience at FAO, answered this question: “Due to contradictions sometimes present in scientific data, such as the case of glyphosate, first declared carcinogenic by the WHO and then declared non-carcinogenic the following year by the FAO Codex Alimentarius, we wanted to carry out a study by cross-checking confirmed data. We compared different areas of Minnesota, in the United States: some cultivated with GM corn, others with organic corn. In the cultivation of herbicide-resistant GM corn, we have found a 0.67% increase in the incidence of diseases. In Minnesota alone, the health cost is 28.8% of the value of the product. One can say that one third of the value of the product is lost in health costs. While the global value of food production has been calculated at $2.8 trillion, environmental costs have been calculated at $3 trillion, to which should be added another $2.8 trillion for costs related to the loss of social welfare and conflicts caused by the loss of natural resources such as soil and water. For every euro of food produced today, we have already spent 3″.
Mariagrazia Mammuccini, of Federbio and spokesperson for Cambia la Terra said: “Our slogan is ‘no to pesticides, yes to organic’. We need a paradigm shift; synthetic chemicals have no future. The alternative is organic and biodynamic agriculture. It is the citizens themselves who have begun to demand it more and more, because it produces positive effects for health and the environment. Unfortunately, public funds still go mainly to those who use chemicals. The more the networks of farmers and citizens spread, the more hope we will have for organic and biodynamic agriculture”.
MP Sara Cunial (5 stars), who hosted the conference, specified that: “an agriculture without poisons is not only possible but it is already a reality. The purpose of politics should be to protect and encourage all positive changes that are already widespread in our territory. Many farmers are carrying out virtuous models without poisons, at the service of people and their health. They are the guardians of the earth and we are determined to defend and support them without compromise; in their hands is our future on this planet”.
MP Susanna Cenni (PD), stressed the importance of laws which come from bottom-up, such as the law on biodiversity which came from guardian farmers and regions. “This alliance is the right direction”, she said.
Senator Saverio De Bonis (mixed group) informed the public about a motion he has recently submitted, on the issue of glyphosate in imported food, which asks the government to issue higher control measures and to refer to the “precautionary principle”, because the right to health and environmental protection must prevail over profit. “We have noticed a lowering of the levels of the herbicides in imported food, by means of self-financed analysis, but we are aware that the amount of endocrine disruptors is still very high”.
MP Rossella Muroni (Leu) stressed that “today, the launch of the Poison Free Food and Farming 2030 campaign in Rome has given strength to us as parliamentarians, who are working on these issues across different parties, and to civil society movements that are committed to organic and sustainable agriculture for the protection of quality, environment and health”.
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