Mexican Pesticide Use
Mexican Use of Unregistered US Pesticides (MEXPEST Case)
CASE NUMBER: XXX
CASE MNEMONIC: MEXPEST
CASE NAME: Mexican Use of Unregistered US
1. The Issue
Although considerable controversy exists concerning the
exportation of pesticides, the United States continues to export
banned or unregistered pesticides to Mexico. The detrimental
consequences are twofold. First, pesticide exports create a
"circle of poison" situation in which US banned pesticides are
exported to the Third World and are used on crops whose produce
is then sent back to the US. Second, considerable evidence
exists concerning the harmful health effects of pesticides on
agricultural workers in the Third World.
The United States relies heavily on the importation of food
produced from Third World countries, particularly from Mexico: 25
percent of all fresh and frozen produce in the US is imported, 50
percent of which comes from Mexico. Furthermore, these figures
are increasing. From 1989 to 1990, fruit imports from Mexico
increased by $100 million and by $200 million for vegetables
While the US increases its reliance on Mexican produce,
Mexico has increased its reliance on pesticide imports and is
currently the second largest pesticide importer in Latin America
(Tansey, 56). In turn, the US chemical industry has increased
its pesticide production and exportation to meet growing demand.
From 1990 to 1991, production increased by 3.5% and sales reached
$7.6 billion with one billion pounds of pesticides produced.
Pesticide exports accounted for nearly one-third of sales, 25
percent of which were not registered by the EPA (Davis, 37).
Furthermore, US customs records show that exports of chlordane,
one of the most toxic pesticides ever formulated, increased
tenfold between 1987 and 1990 (World Resources Institute, 112).
Rigid laws exist concerning pesticide use in the United
States yet there are virtually no regulations for the exportation
of banned or unregistered pesticides. Pesticide manufacturers
spend years and millions of dollars testing their products before
presenting them to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for
approval and registration. When these pesticides are not
approved, US manufacturers often export them to Third World
countries where restrictions on pesticide use are much more lax.
As a result, 26 pesticide ingredients banned from use in the US
are exported to the Third World, six of which are used in Mexico
(Hanson, 16) (see CODEX case).
The problem is twofold; first, toxicity threatens US
consumers in the "circle of poison" effect in which unregistered
or banned pesticides are exported to Mexico and sprayed on crops
whose produce is then exported back to the US (Hanson, 16). The
EPA ranks pesticide residues as one of the leading health
problems in the US. A study conducted by the National Academy of
Scientists estimates that in the next 70 years, one million
additional cases of cancer in the US will be caused by pest
residues (Tansey, 55).
In the early 1980s, 15 percent of beans and 13 percent of
peppers imported from Mexico exceeded FDA limitations for
pesticide residues (Tansey, 55). Currently, FDA tests on
imported foods reveal that contamination by illegal pesticides
account for only five percent of imports; however, contamination
rates are higher for imported carrots, pineapples, rice, peas and
pears (Allen, May 28, 1991; B1). Moreover, the FDA only tests
one or two percent of imports (Barr, May 7, 1991; 14) while the
rest wind up in US grocery stores.
In June 1990, the US Senate Agricultural Committee voted to
ban the export of unsafe pesticides. The panel adopted the
legislation as part of the 1990 farm bill and hoped that the
House of Representatives would address the issue. Strong
objection to the bill came from the National Agricultural
Chemicals Association, a trade group consisting of pesticide
manufacturers, whose 1989 export sales totaled $2.2 billion. The
bill was never enacted and, although the issue continues to be
debated, it is largely ignored (Ingersol, June 7, 1990; 16).
Critics argue that most pesticide exports are merely
unregistered in the US rather than banned. Many pesticides
formulated in the US are never tested for approval because they
are of no use to US agricultural needs are sent directly to
countries with suitable soils or who grow produce that can
utilize the chemicals. Critics also argue that, with a ban,
countries will seek out other countries who are willing to supply
the banned pesticides (Allen, May 28, 1991; 1).
The second consequence is the health hazards that Mexican
workers face when using banned or unregistered pesticides. Since
1990, the Mexican government has made environmental standards
much more strict yet does very little to enforce them.
Furthermore, inspection of pesticides and pesticide residue is
almost unheard of (Davis, 40).
Improper pesticide use has been found to cause various forms
of cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, sterility, and deaths.
The Third World uses 80 percent of the world's pesticides and the
World Health Organization estimates that all of the 220,000
annual pesticide related deaths occur in the Third World (Davis,
40). Moreover, agricultural workers are rarely given sufficient
information on the risks involved and thus do not take proper
protective measures when using pesticides. As a result,
pesticide poisoning is thirteen times higher for Latin American
workers than for US workers (Tansey, 55).
In the Culiacan Valley in Sinaloa, Mexico three thousand
field workers are hospitalized each year from pesticide
intoxication alone. Contrary to widespread belief, the North
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has not reduced the level
of pesticide use in Mexico (Schrader, 35-36).
3. Related Cases
See CODEX case
See BASEL case
(1): Trade Product = PESTICIDES
(2): Bio-geography = TEMPerate Plains
(3): Environmental Problem = Species Loss Land [SPLL]
4. Draft Author: Colleen Tighe
B. LEGAL Clusters
5. Discourse and Status: DISagreement and ALLEGE
6. Forum and Scope: MEXICO and BILATeral
7. Decision Breadth: 2 (USA, MEXICO)
The exportation of banned pesticides to the Third World is
not an isolated issue and it has been documented that many
European countries also export banned pesticides. This specific
case involves only the US and Mexico though an agreement can
affect countries that export and import banned pesticides by
encouraging others to reach a resolution. The issue has been
addressed worldwide. In 1962, the United Nations created the
Codex Commission to establish international standards, codes of
practice and guidelines for food quality and safety, including
pesticide usage. However, membership is voluntary and only
enforceable if adopted by national regulations (Miller, 1900).
8. Legal Standing: LAW
While laws exist in the US concerning pesticide registration
and use in the country, no law exists that forbids manufacturers
from exporting banned or unregistered pesticides to countries
with less stringent laws. Furthermore, although Mexico has laws
concerning pesticide use, for example, import regulations on
certain pesticides, these laws are rarely, if ever, enforced.
C. GEOGRAPHIC Clusters
9. Geographic Locations
a. Geographic Domain : North America [NAMER]
b. Geographic Site : Western North America [WNAMER]
c. Geographic Impact : USA
10. Sub-National Factors: NO
11. Type of Habitat: TEMPerate Plains
D. TRADE Clusters
12. Type of Measure: Not applicable [NAPP]
No measure exists in or between the two countries because
there is currently no consensus on the issue. The type of
measure needed that most accurately depicts the issue is a
regulatory standard that prohibits the export or import of banned
or unregistered pesticides. Another measure could be categorized
as an import ban if Mexico were to decide to ban all pesticide
imports not registered in the US. Likewise, an export ban could
be enforced if the US were to decide to ban all pesticide exports
not registered in the country. Finally, the type of measure
would be an import ban if the US decided to crack down on produce
imported to the US from Mexico that had illegal pesticide
13. Direct vs. Indirect Impacts: DIRect
14. Relation of Measure to Environmental Impact
a. Directly Related : YES
b. Indirectly Related : NO
c. Not Related : NO
d. Process Related : YES Species Loss Land [SPLL]
15. Trade Product Identification: PESTICIDES
16. Economic Data
Per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Mexico is
US$3,321 and is US$7,170 when Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) is
included. Fifty two percent of the land is under cultivation
with 30 percent of the population working in the agricultural
sector. Rural-urban income disparity is large: while nearly one-
third of Mexico's population works in the agricultural sector, a
mere eight percent of the country's GDP belongs to this sector
(World Resources Institute, 269-287).
17. Impact of Measure on Trade Competitiveness: BAN
18. Industry Sector: CHEMicals
19. Exporter and Importer: USA and MEXICO
There are no precise figures on the amount of pesticides
Mexico imports from the US each year. However, the US had $7.6
billion in sales and produced one billion pounds of pesticides in
1991. Exports accounted for nearly one-third of sales and 25
percent of pesticide exports were not registered by the EPA.
Furthermore, both registered and unregistered pesticide
production are increasing rather than decreasing: from 1990 to
1991 the US chemical industry increased its production by 3.5
percent (Davis, 37).
E. ENVIRONMENT Clusters
20. Environmental Problem Type: Species Loss Land [SPLL]
21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species
Name: Homo sapien
Type: Animal/Mammal/Homo sapien
22. Impact and Effect: MEDIUM and PRODuct
23. Urgency and Lifetime: LOW and 65 years
Pesticide use is threatening human health yet it does not
threaten the survival of the human race as a whole because
populations, worldwide and in Mexico, are increasing rather than
24. Substitutes: Biodegradable products [BIODG]
Non-chemical alternatives that are unharmful to human beings
exist such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM). For example, Del
Monte and Hunt-Wesson use IPM in tomato fields in Sinalo, Mexico
which has decreased spraying from 16 to 3.5 annual applications
VI. OTHER Factors
25. Culture: NO
26. Trans-Border: NO
27. Rights: YES
Mexican agricultural workers lack information on the harmful
effects that these pesticides can cause, particularly when
incorrectly used. Mexican human rights are violated since
information concerning health protection is withheld.
Furthermore, when information is available, poor workers often
cannot afford to purchase the expensive protective clothing and
therefore must forego protective measures.
28. Relevant Literature
Allen, Frank Edward. "Lines are Drawn Again Over Pesticide
Exports," The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 1991, p.B1:1.
Barr, Cameron. "Combating the `Circle of Poison'," Christian
Science Monitor, May 7, 1991, p.14:1.
Davis, Andrew. "Can Congress Close off the Circle of Poison?",
Business and Society Review, Summer 1992, n82, p.36-40.
Hanson, David J. "Administration Seeks Tighter Curbs on Exports
of Unregistered Pesticides," Chemical and Engineering News,
February 14, 1994, v72n7, p.16-17.
Ingersol, Bruce. "Senate Panel Targets `Circle of Poison' as it
Votes to Ban Some Pesticide Exports," The Wall Street
Journal, June 7, 1990, p.A16:1.
Miller, Stanton. "US and Mexican Pesticide Standards:
Similarities and Differences," Environmental Science and
Technology, October 1992, v26n10, p.1900-1901.
Schrader, Esther. "A Giant Spraying Sound," Mother Jones,
January/February 1995, v20n1, p.34-37+.
Tansey, Richard. "Eradicating the Pesticide Problem in Latin
America," Business and Society Review, Winter 1995, n92,
World Resources Institute. World Resources, 1994-1995, Oxford
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