Coun­tries across the world have not been able to reg­u­late the use of glyphosate

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY - @_vib­havarsh­ney

Carey Gil­lam, au­thor of White­wash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Can­cer and the

Cor­rup­tion of Sci­ence, says Mon­santo’s re­search on glyphosate is highly sus­pect. For ex­am­ple, re­search fraud was dis­cov­ered at two of the lab­o­ra­to­ries the com­pany used reg­u­larly. In one of these labs, In­dus­trial Bio-Test Lab­o­ra­to­ries, re­searchers would sub­sti­tute dead or sick an­i­mals with new ones, but did not in­di­cate this in their lab re­ports. There were also in­stances where false data was sub­mit­ted if test re­sults were not what the com­pany wanted.

Over the years, Mon­santo has spent mil­lions to pro­tect its prod­uct. It paid sci­en­tists to con­duct stud­ies to show it was safe. It spon­sored ex­perts who would counter if a pa­per or ar­ti­cle sug­gested that it was un­safe and got ghost writ­ten ar­ti­cles in names of prom­i­nent sci­en­tists. This ma­nip­u­lated data blot­ted usepa’s own as­sess­ment in 1985 that said that the chem­i­cal was a car­cino­gen.

In March 2015, the In­ter­na­tional Agency for Re­search on Can­cer (iarc), an agency un­der the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (who), la­belled it “prob­a­bly car­cino­genic” and found that it has links with non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma. This too has been coun­tered by the com­pany which called the global body’s as­sess­ment as “junk sci­ence”. In 2016, af­ter

in­tense lob­by­ing, the in­dus­try man­aged to get a joint com­mitte com­pris­ing mem­bers from the who and the Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion to say that “glyphosate is un­likely to pose a car­cino­genic risk to hu­mans from ex­po­sure through diet”. How­ever, iarc up­dated its re­view in 2017 and has still clas­si­fied the chem­i­cal as a car­cino­gen.

But coun­tries are find­ing it dif­fi­cult to ban the chem­i­cal be­cause of pres­sure from in­dus­try and farm­ers. Sri Lanka was the first coun­try to ban the chem­i­cal in 2014 af­ter a study linked it to chronic kid­ney dis­ease, preva­lent in many parts of the coun­try. This study showed a link be­tween dis­eased rice farm­ers and use of Roundup®. Re­searchers said that the chem­i­cal re­acted with cad­mium and ar­senic in ground­wa­ter to be­come more toxic. How­ever, the ban was lifted in June 2018 due to pres­sure from tea plan­ta­tion own­ers who said the ban had led to crop losses worth more than US $157 mil­lion.

In Thailand too, farm­ers and agri­cul­ture in­dus­try lead­ers have asked the gov­ern­ment not to re­strict its use. Here, it is used in plan­ta­tion crops like oil palm, rub­ber and trop­i­cal fruits. They claimed that use of glyphosate al­lowed them to farm without tillage. This had en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits such as less soil ero­sion, high wa­ter re­ten­tion and

re­duced car­bon diox­ide emis­sions. Farm­ers threat­ened to shift to tillage if they were de­nied glyphosate.

An ex­am­ple of how busi­ness in­ter­ests can shape pol­icy is ev­i­dent from the wob­bly stand of the Eu­ro­pean Union (EU). On Novem­ber 27, 2017, the EU voted to take a de­ci­sion on whether li­cence for glyphosate should be re­newed or not—18 coun­tries backed the pro­posal, nine coun­tries were against and one ab­stained. This al­lowed for the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion (EC) to re­new the li­cence for an­other 5 years. Not sur­pris­ingly, Ger­many voted in favour of the chem­i­cal to pro­tect Bayer’s busi­ness in­ter­ests (see map: ‘Baby steps’ on p32).

Af­ter buy­ing Mon­santo for US $62.5 bil­lion, Bayer has de­cided to ditch Mon­santo’s name. In­dus­try ob­servers say that this is to avoid fu­ture as­so­ci­a­tion with a com­pany that has of­ten been la­belled as the world’s most vil­i­fied com­pany. And rightly so. The com­pany’s his­tory is mired with con­tro­ver­sial prod­ucts such as poly­chlo­ri­nated biphenyls, a per­sis­tent or­ganic pol­lu­tant that causes can­cer, Agent Or­ange, a de­fo­liant used in the Viet­nam war that was linked to ge­netic de­fects in chil­dren, and as­par­tame, an ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­ener that is car­cino­genic. More­over, Mon­santo’s ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied seeds have de­stroyed nat­u­ral farm­ing sys­tems across the world.

In Novem­ber 2017, Ar­gentina tried to ban glyphosate, but within two weeks, the com­pany stepped in to get the ban process re­voked. The com­pany ar­gued that the EU had agreed to re­new the li­cence for the her­bi­cide for five years prov­ing it was safe. So a new mu­nic­i­pal bill was drafted, which au­tho­rises spray­ing with cer­tain pre­cau­tions. “We con­sider it de­plorable that the coun­cilors re­versed the com­mend­able de­ci­sion to pro­tect the health and en­vi­ron­ment, yield­ing to pres­sure from the soy lobby,” said a group of more than 10 en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial or­gan­i­sa­tions in the coun­try.

Body of ev­i­dence

Ev­i­dence nail­ing glyphosate is pour­ing in. Re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia San Diego School of Medicine say that ex­po­sure to glyphosate has in­creased about 500 per cent since the in­tro­duc­tion of ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied crops. The re­searchers com­pared the lev­els of glyphosate in urine sam­ples over a 23-year pe­riod, start­ing in 1993, just be­fore the in­tro­duc­tion of ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied crops into the US. The find­ings were pub­lished in the JAMA on Oc­to­ber 24, 2017.

These residues have ad­verse health ef­fects as seen in Ar­gentina. A study pub­lished

in Jour­nal of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion in April 2018 says that in ar­eas where GM soy is cul­ti­vated, mis­car­riages were three times the na­tional av­er­age and birth de­fects were two times the na­tional av­er­age.

On March 9, 2018, a study pub­lished in En­vi­ron­men­tal Health re­vealed that ex­po­sure to glyphosate re­sulted in short­ened preg­nancy length which is detri­men­tal to the child’s health. The re­search found that 93 per cent of a group of preg­nant women in Cen­tral In­di­ana in the US had de­tectable lev­els of glyphosate in their urine. Re­searchers found that the glyphosate lev­els cor­re­lated sig­nif­i­cantly with short­ened preg­nancy lengths. Such stud­ies that cap­ture the health ef­fects of gly­posate are miss­ing in In­dia.

Move­ment in the off­ing

Of late, some ef­forts have been made to cur­tail the use of this chem­i­cals in In­dia. On March 26, 2018, the agri­cul­ture of­fice of Ya­vat­mal dis­trict wrote to the di­rec­tor, qual­ity con­trol, Pune, ask­ing for re­stric­tions on glyphosate point­ing out that as Ya­vat­mal did not have tea gar­dens or non-crop ar­eas, the use of the chem­i­cal was il­le­gal. “We do not want the harm­ful chem­i­cal in our ju­ris­dic­tion,” says Kailas Wankhede, sub di­vi­sional agri­cul­ture of­fi­cer, Ya­vat­mal.

For about two months the sale of the chem­i­cal was cur­tailed in Ya­vat­mal. The farm­ers who wanted it, how­ever, could pro­cure it from the neigh­bour­ing dis­tricts. Due to the de­mand, the re­stric­tions could not be en­forced. “Kr­ishi kendras, lo­cal shops that sell agro prod­ucts, have asked for a li­cence and we could not refuse per­mis­sion,” says N M Ko­lap­kar, dis­trict su­per­in­ten­dent, agri­cul­tural of­fi­cer, Ya­vat­mal. More­over, dis­trict agri­cul­ture depart­ments do not have the author­ity to re­strict the sale of agro­chem­i­cals. Even state gov­ern­ments can­not ban the sale, dis­tri­bu­tion or use of pes­ti­cides beyond 60 days, ac­cord­ing to Sec­tion 27 of the In­sec­ti­cides Act, 1968. The de­ci­sion to ban the sale and use of agro­chem­i­cals can be taken only by the cib&rc, which comes un­der the Union Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture and Farmer’s Wel­fare.

Other than Ma­ha­rash­tra, Andhra Pradesh too has cur­tailed its use. They are not alone in the fight against glyphosate. In Oc­to­ber 2017, the Al­liance for Sus­tain­able & Holis­tic Agri­cul­ture (asha), a net­work of agri­cul­tural or­gan­i­sa­tions had pe­ti­tioned the

Union Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture and Farmer’s Wel­fare to ban the chem­i­cal. “It should be banned as none of the farm­ers use the rec­om­mended per­sonal pro­tec­tive gear and equip­ment manda­to­rily re­quired to be used,” says Dileep Ku­mar, pro­gramme co­or­di­na­tor of

pan. Man­ish B Sh­ri­giri­was, dean of Vas­antrao Naik Gov­ern­ment Med­i­cal Col­lege, Ya­vat­mal, also rec­om­mends a ban. “Glyphosate should not be used as there is no an­ti­dote for it,” he ar­gues.

How­ever, this is not go­ing to be easy. When Sachin­dra Pratap Singh, agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner of Pune was pre­par­ing a re­port to be sent to the Cen­tral gov­ern­ment to take ac­tion against glyphosate, he could not find re­search in In­dia to sup­port a ban. There are ways state gov­ern­ments can get a pes­ti­cide banned. For in­stance, the Nag­pur bench of the Bom­bay High Court on Fe­bru­ary 22, 2018—while hear­ing a pub­lic in­ter­est pe­ti­tion filed by Jammu Anand, a so­cial ac­tivist based in Nag­pur—on com­pen­sa­tion for farm­ers who died af­ter in­hal­ing pes­ti­cides, asked the Ma­ha­rash­tra gov­ern­ment to com­mu­ni­cate with the Union gov­ern­ment to ban pes­ti­cides.

But this may not solve the prob­lems that the farmer is fac­ing. “The au­thor­i­ties do not un­der­stand the ground re­al­i­ties. The farm­ers are us­ing it only to make ends meet. Ban­ning it without of­fer­ing any al­ter­na­tive would fur­ther ag­gra­vate farm dis­tress,” says Vi­jay Jawand­hia, found­ing mem­ber of Shetkari Sang­hatana, a net­work of farmer or­gan­i­sa­tions. As gov­ern­ment agen­cies to pro­mote safe use of chem­i­cals are miss­ing, farm­ers like Nana Nit­nawre of Tekadi vil­lage are forced to take the ad­vice of agro­chem­i­cal deal­ers. “We are in­debted to the dealer, we use what­ever he gives us,” says Nit­nawre.

Ga­janan Divekar of Wagha­pur vil­lage in Ya­vat­mal dis­trict sug­gests that the cri­sis can be averted if the farm­ers get a fair price for their pro­duce. Farm­ers are even ready to switch to or­ganic farm­ing if they are as­sured of higher prices, he says. Jawand­hia rec­om­mends that weed­ing could be in­cluded in the farm work ap­proved un­der the Ma­hatma Gandhi Na­tional Ru­ral Em­ploy­ment Guar­an­tee Act. Kavitha Ku­ru­ganti of asha says that in­stead of glyphosate, tra­di­tional weed man­age­ment sys­tems should be used which pro­motes weeds that are use­ful as food and fod­der (see ‘Col­laps­ing ecosys­tems’).

De­spite the fact that chem­i­cal residues are present in food, the In­dian con­sumer has not come into the pic­ture so far. They have not de­manded glyphosate-free food, even though there is enough ev­i­dence of its pres­ence in foods. San­tanu Mi­tra, au­thor of Poi­son Foods of

North Amer­ica, says, “About half of all yel­low peas (matar) and red lentils (ma­sur) con­sumed in In­dia come from Canada. About 93 per cent of yel­low peas and 75 per cent of red lentils from Canada had glyphosate resi-

dues of 199 and 485 parts per bil­lion (ppb). Green gram (mung) from Aus­tralia had a shock­ing glyphosate residue of 1,500 ppb.” In­dia im­ports large quan­ti­ties of pulses from both Canada and Aus­tralia. In fact, Canada’s food reg­u­la­tor found traces of glyphosate in nearly 30 per cent of about 3,200 food prod­ucts it tested.

In the US, though in­de­pen­dent stud­ies have shown that food prod­ucts had glyphosate residue, the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to hide the fact. When the US Food and Drug Agri­cul­ture Ad­min­is­tra­tion (usfda) re­leased its study in 2017, it did not re­port any vi­o­la­tion of glyphosate residue stan­dards. In­ter­nal cor­re­spon­dence, how­ever, shows that the usfda re­searchers too had found nearly ev­ery food con­tam­i­nated while they were val­i­dat­ing the test­ing meth­ods. But since these were not the of­fi­cial sam­ples but sam­ples the re­searchers brought from home, the usfda higher-ups de­cided to ig­nore the find­ings. These test re­sults are now part of the hear­ing in the San Fran­cisco case men­tioned ear­lier.

In In­dia, a draft no­ti­fi­ca­tion was re­leased on De­cem­ber 27, 2017 propos­ing Max­i­mum Residues Limit for glyphosate—it has been set at 1 mg per kg, 0.01 mg per kg and 0.05 mg per kg for tea, rice, meat and meat prod­ucts re­spec­tively. Though the pro­posed stan­dards are in sync with global bench­marks, un­less In­dia sets lim­its for ev­ery­thing, the con­sumer would be sus­cep­ti­ble to con­tam­i­na­tion, in­clud­ing from im­ported food. We also need fa­cil­i­ties to test for the pres­ence of the residues. The final no­ti­fi­ca­tion is yet to be is­sued.

“It is time for a new scheme for pes­ti­cide eval­u­a­tion in which reg­u­la­tory de­ci­sion-mak­ing takes into ac­count not only the tech­ni­cal ev­i­dence on safety but also the so­ci­etal con­text in which de­ci­sions are made,” say Nico M van Straalen from Vrije Univer­siteit Am­s­ter­dam and Juli­ette Le­gler from In­sti­tute for Risk As­sess­ment Sciences, Utrecht Univer­sity, the Nether­lands, in an ar­ti­cle in Sci­ence in May 2018.

In the in­ter­est of the health of the farmer as well as the con­sumer, the Union gov­ern­ment must get se­ri­ous on this toxic chem­i­cal. As of now, there seems lit­tle hope in the off­ing. In the US, De­Wayne John­son wants the chem­i­cal banned. So does Man­gala Ma­davi, a res­i­dent of Kalamb tehsil in Ya­vat­mal dis­trict. Her hus­band was one of the vic­tims of the in­hala­tion deaths last year. The spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion team set up by the gov­ern­ment last year gave a clean chit to the chem­i­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers putting the blame squarely on the farm­ers. Mangla dif­fers. “It is the fault of the com­pa­nies. They are mak­ing bad prod­ucts,” she says. Last year, when her hus­band passed away, the other labour­ers stopped spray­ing for some time. But they had no op­tion. “We have to see what hap­pens this year when the rains make con­di­tions per­fect for the weeds,” she adds.

Phool Singh Jad­hav of Tekadi vil­lage in Ya­vat­mal dis­trict, Ma­ha­rash­tra, has a five hectare cot­ton farm, which is full of weeds. He plans to re­move weeds man­u­ally

Pro­tes­tors in Brus­sels demon­strate against the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion's de­ci­sion for a five-year ex­ten­sion of a li­cence to sell glyphosate on Novem­ber 27, 2017

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