Paraquat needs to be tightly regulated, not banned
Dear Editor, A number of persons recently reached out to me asking my support for banning gramoxone. In the call for banning gramoxone, the target is the banning of paraquat. The reason is that this chemical is the most frequently-used weapon for deaths caused by suicide. While, most of these advocates call for banning gramoxone, the active ingredient is paraquat which is often sold as gramoxone, superzone, herbixone, farmixone etc. In my previous capacity as Minister of Health and Minister of Agriculture in Guyana, I frequently spoke, both in and out of Guyana, of the need for strict regulation of paraquat.
I first spoke about paraquat in 1973, as a young school teacher, at a time when paraquat-induced suicide deaths happened far too often in the communities where I grew up, played and worked. As a young teacher in 1973, suicide took the lives of at least three young people around me. During my terms as Minister of Health and then as the Minister of Agriculture and during the times I served at the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization, my position remained what my position was in 1973, as a then idealist young teacher.
My position is that we must strictly regulate the procurement, storage and use of paraquat. Paraquat should not be sold or bought by just anyone. Laws must restrict who can sell and buy these chemicals. Government has responsibility to ensure awareness and education for the safe storage and use of these chemicals. My position has never been the ban of paraquat. If you ban this product, there is still need for another chemical that must be at least as effective an agricultural pesticide as paraquat. Banning of one pesticide can just result in other pesticides becoming suicidal weapons since there are many other pesticides used in agriculture that are far more toxic than paraquat. Paraquat is a major weapon in suicide not only because of its toxicity, but also because paraquat is available and easily accessible to people. It is for this reason that I have always advocated strict rules governing procurement, storage and use of paraquat or any other agricultural pesticide as part of the strategy to prevent suicide.
When the PPP government established the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals (Control) Board, one of the reasons was that there needed to be tighter control of what chemicals entered Guyana, who could use them, when they could use them, how they must be stored etc. Safety was a prime reason for the establishment of the Board. But we were acutely aware then that the inappropriate use of these chemicals in the suicide pathway must be taken into account.
In the latest move, the Government of Guyana in 2016 listed paraquat (in all its forms) as a restricted chemical. This means that people can only procure paraquat with the use of identification cards. Previously, rules were made that restricted who could import paraquat into Guyana and rules were enforced where paraquat sales were restricted to registered sale points. We have to continue to make these rules stricter and vigorously enforce them. In spite of rules of who could import and sell paraquat, there are still many sale points that are not registered, contributing to the illegal trafficking of paraquat.
When I was Minister, both at