As many of you know, for the last year or so, I have been participating in the assessment of the 'safety' of the insecticide monocrotophos to birds. Under pressure from the American Bird Conservancy and other NGOs, the two current multinational manufacturers, Novartis Corp. (ex. Ciba Geigy) and American Cyanamid had accepted to submit monocrotophos to scientific scrutiny by an international team of scientists, the latter company somewhat grudgingly. Monocrotophos was the insecticide responsible for the extensive mortality of Swainson's Hawks in Argentina. It is one of the most popular insecticides in the world, with most of its use in the developing world. It is used on a wide variety of crops - rice, cereals, cotton, vegetables, sugarcane etc... Last month, I presented Novartis with a draft assessment that concluded that most, if not all, of the existing use patterns and use rates are expected to kill substantial numbers of exposed birds. Argentina is, unfortunately, not an isolated case.
A few days ago, Novartis Corp. has announced that they were completely phasing out their production of monocrotophos beginning with Argentina. They are currently responsible for about 20% of the world production. The bad news is that there are an estimated 30 manufacturers world wide - most based in China and India. However, it is a start. What Novartis has done is to review its insecticide portfolio and decided to stop production of several old OPs including monocrotophos. The maritimers among you should note with some appreciation that they are also phasing out their production of phosphamidon -- purple death as we knew it. Although they will not say so publically (see attached release in an agricultural magazine), the problems in Argentina both with the hawks as well as with a couple of well publicised misuse cases were important factors in their decision - they were still making a hefty profit from the product but the hassle just wasn't worth it anymore. Our assessment was just the "icing on the cake".
The company in the end did the right thing and should be congratulated. It remains to be seen whether any others will follow suit starting with American Cyanamid.