Pennsylvania Pesticide Maker Vows Steps To Protect Lions
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The manufacturer of a pesticide blamed by conservationists for the poisoning deaths of lions and other animals in Kenya says it is taking "aggressive action'' to prevent misuse of the product, halting sales to the country and trying to buy back supplies.
Carbofuran, marketed as Furadan by Philadelphia-based FMC Corp., is used to control insects and other pests on crops such as corn, rice and sorghum. The European Union has banned use of the chemical, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving to bar its use on all food crops.
But conservationists and researchers say that the product is widely available and inexpensive in East Africa and that herdsmen trying to protect their animals from lions and hyenas use it to poison the predators. Scientist and conservationist Richard Leakey has called for a ban due to the problem.
Laurence Frank, a University of California-Berkeley researcher, told the university's alumni magazine California for an article earlier this year that it was "unspeakably tragic'' that lions, "the signature carnivore for the continent, have vanished throughout most of the country.''
Frank told CBS' "60 Minutes'' for Sunday's program that he knows of more than 30 poisonings in one area and 35 to 40 in another, which he considers only "the tiny tip of the iceberg.'' He told the program that if the poisonings don't stop, the fate of the African lion may be sealed.
Milton Steele, vice president for agricultural products at FMC Corp., told The Associated Press in an interview Sunday that he found it "horrendous'' to think that one of the company's products might be used to kill endangered wildlife. But he said that he knew of no definitive proof that Furadan had been involved and that a Kenyan investigation of the suspected poisonings of two lions on the Maasai Mara Reserve early last year concluded the product was not involved.
Nevertheless, because of the number of stories of poisonings and "hearsay'' that Furadan was the preferred choice of herdsman, the company suspended sales of the pesticide in Kenya in May, Steele said. FMC also recently began a buyback program to encourage growers and herdsmen to return any remaining supplies, he said.
"We will not resume sales until such time as we can be assured that the deliberate widespread misuse of our product won't occur, and if we can't be assured of that there is going to be no more sales to Kenya,'' Steele said.
Steele said the company wanted to work with Leakey and Frank to determine whether the pesticide was involved and to ensure that there are no future poisonings. He said, however, he believed use of Furadan should continue where animal poisonings are not a problem.
"It still serves a valuable function in helping to grow food for the world,'' he said.
The product in the past has been blamed for massive bird deaths, but Steele said the company has heard of no bird kills since 2000 stemming from proper use, although deliberate poisonings have occurred. The company is contesting the EPA's proposed ban and last year filed for reapproval for use of the chemical in the European Union, he said.