Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Market economics: the pesticide factor

If you're rejoicing over the fact that it's time again to shop at the market - where stalls are overflowing with big red tomatoes from Azerbaijan, potatoes from the Baltics and cabbage from Moldova - think again.


Oksana Tsitser is an ecologist who has been working for government ministries for almost 20 years, and she never buys anything at the market. She is more aware than most of the use and misuse in the former Soviet Union of pesticides, especially DDT.


"Unlike civilized countries, the Soviet Union allowed the use of DDT and other pesticides without any regulation, without any control", Tsitser says. "International norms have never been applied in this country".


As a result, the former Soviet Union has become an agricultural danger zone. In 1990, tests showed that 30 percent of the food produced in the Soviet republics was contaminated and should not be eaten. In Georgia, that figure reaches 40 percent. An expert with the Russian Ecology Ministry - recently confirmed a report in the Wall Street Journal that the consumption of pesticides from food kills 14, 000 people a year in the former Soviet Union.


In most Western countries DDT was banned some 20 years ago. Here, too, the Communists banned it officially, but only after decades of intensive propaganda praising the benefits of the pesticide in enhancing crop yield. According to Tsitser, farmers from the older generation continued to use it and probably still do.


"The idea that DDT is a good substance persists among older people", she said. "So if they have DDT in their


sheds - DDT keeps for 25-30 years - it's almost certain that they're using it on their land today".


DDT is not produced anymore in this country and, "in principle", Tsitser says, "there is a certain control over the use of pesticides in general".


"But this country is big", she adds, "there is a lack of equipment and not enough specialists".


And there is yet another problem. In a country where rumors of impending famine circulate every winter, the choice becomes, as Tsitser puts it, "to die of pesticides or to die of hunger".


"What measures can we take when we don't produce enough food to feed our people? " she says.


At the Ecology Ministry, experts believe that the problem of control over pesticides and food production should not be the responsibility of the government alone, but that consumers should organize themselves and participate in a parallel system of control.


But consumer protection groups are not yet a reality in Russia. and the public does not appear to feel any sense of urgency. Of two dozen people interviewed at Moscow's Central Market, less than half expressed concern over pesticides. So consumer action is unlikely in the near future.


If you would still rather buy fruit and vegetables for rubles at the market because you figure it's ridiculous to pay $4 for a kilo of potatoes at a hard-currency store, then at least ask where the produce comes from. and try to avoid anything from Moldova, Azerbaijan or Georgia. An Ecology Ministry report to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro names these former Soviet republics as the most pesticide-happy.