Pesticides: Towards an International History

Our joint research project in international and environmental history focuses on the international governance of pesticides in the second half of the twentieth century, particularly on the beginning of international debates in the late 1950s and 1960s. In our project we will explore the early history of international debates on pesticide safety and regulation by looking into the archives of two institutions: those of the International Labour Organization in Geneva (ILO Historical Archives) and those of the European Economic Community and the European Community in Florence (Historical Archives of the European Union, HAEU). We want to explore the following broad questions, focusing on the 1950s and 1960s: How did international agencies such as the ILO and the EEC/EC address the environmental, occupational, and public health risks emanating from pesticide use at a time when these materials were being introduced for the first time on a massive scale? Who were the experts who discussed these issues in the early 1950s and 1960s, how did they position themselves to the advantages and disadvantages of pesticides, and what were the results of their discussions (e.g., (dis)agreement on recommendations, adoption of common protocols, etc.)? How did international agencies shape the perception of social (rather than environmental) concerns, for example the chronic poisoning of farmworkers either because of direct handling or indirect pollution? What were the social, political, and geographical tropes guiding and influencing these debates?

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