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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 22, May 21, 2011

Endosulfan And Related Issues: Pesticide Companies’ Influence on Ministries and Scientific Panels

Tuesday 24 May 2011, by Sailendra Nath Ghosh

Anna Hazare is campaigning against corruption. The people’s attention is focussed on bribery and money-making forms of corruption, which can be smelt by intelligent lay public and established by diligent enquiry on the basis of common sense logic.

There is another kind of corruption which is more insidious—appointing members of scientific and technical advisory panels, the majority of whom would belong to the lobby of the manufacturers whose products they are supposed to analyse and evaluate, or whose activities they will be called upon to keep watch over.

One such case came glaringly to the surface on the issue of endosulfan, the organochloride pesticide which has for nearly a decade been known as highly toxic. Independent researchers found it to be an endocrine disruptor and a “teratogen” to humans causing birth defects with deformities in limbs, brain damage and reproductive disorders. It is also known for its long persistence in the environment, from a minimum of nine months to six years. It is also known for the long travel distance of its residues—across oceans and deserts.

Because of these highly undesirable effects, it has been banned in 73 countries including Australia, New Zealand, the countries of the European Union, and many Asian and West African nations, and is in the process of being phased out in the USA, Brazil and Canada.

It is a disgrace that it is only the Indian delegation to the recent Geneva meet of the Stockholm Convention’s Review Committee on Persistent Organic Pollutants that sought to oppose its ban, even though the worst sufferers from its use are the people of Kasargod district in Kerala, an Indian State. In the district of Kasargod, endosulfan has been aerially spread for many years on the cashew plantations. According to some reports, it has resulted in the death of about one thousand and mysterious diseases to nearly ten thousand persons. The people of Kerala and Karnataka as a whole have been the next in the order of sufferings. Independent observers from Kerala to the Geneva meet were, therefore, shocked to find that the official Indian delegation had a secret conclave with the endosulfan manufacturers’ lobby outside the venue.

The influence of the manufacturers on the Ministry of Agriculture had been apparent even earlier. Sharad Pawar had told Parliament in February last that many State governments and farmers’ associations have demanded the continued use of endosulfan. But press reports say that a written response under the RTI Act has revealed that no State Government has requested it. It was the Saurashtra Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Consortium of Indian Farmers’ Association (evidently, a dummy organisation exploiting the name of farmers), one employee of Excel Crop Care (endosulfan’s large manufacturer) masquerading as an independent scientist, and one “Krishi Kendra Trust” who wrote to the Ministry for its use to make a show of public demand. Only two farmers were roped in to make the same request.

The Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Chemicals too, have, on various occasions, been seen as under the spell of the manufacturers of chemicals, as also of pharmaceuticals.

The ways the manufacturers spread their tentacles are various—by providing grants to universities to do some research projects for them; by organising seminars and inviting Ministers either as chief guests or for reading inaugurals ghost-written by brain-washed “experts”; by funding foreign travels of the Ministers’ or some influential policy-makers’ family members and the like. In fact, the powerful companies have all infiltrated into the research bodies in decisive mumbers. It is so pervasive that the voice of honest and independent scientists often get drowned by the howling of scientists who have sold their souls. Common people get confused by the opposing viewpoints.

Authorities like the Indian Medical Association and Indian Council of Medical Research, too, are not free from their influences. They rely on their coteries.

Interestingly, Sharad Pawar has declared that the government would go by the decision of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on the issue of endosulfan. The ICMR, in turn, is awaiting the findings of a study by the Calicut Medical College of Kerala. It does not seem to recognise the study which has already been made by the Kerala State branch of the Indian Medical Association. According to a journal Doc N Doc which is patronised by many doctors of this country, the State branch of the IMA made a detailed study in the cashew plantation area of Enmakaje Panchayat and reported that endosulfan was the cause of high morbidity and greater prevalence of congenital malformations and malignancies. It also documented its toxic effects on kidneys, on intra-uterine foetuses, on liver and immunity systems, and its effects on degrading the quality of semen, on the increase of incidences of testicular and prostate cancer, female breast cancers, etc. The IMA study is thus in accord with the findings of other member-countries of the Stockholm Convention that endosulfan can be genotoxic, that is, capable of causing genetic mutation.

Sharad Pawar apparently does not attach any importance to this IMA study. K.V. Thomas in the Union Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies had the temerity to say that no study has established any links between endosulfian and the deaths and mysterious diseases. They are in a denial mood. They will want studies by their trusted men on endosulfan’s effects. But was it not their duty to initiate studies much earlier to find out what, other than this pesticide, could have caused such large numbers of deaths and such an epidemic of mysterious diseases in the affected areas?

Waiting for study is only an apologia for delaying action. This kind of plea was debunked long ago by India’s elder statesman, the late Chakravarti Rajagopalachari. Speaking in the Madras Assembly, he said: “You don’t need to study the density of mosquito population to know that you need to set up mosquito curtains in Mylapore.” That was plain common sense. Sharad Pawar lacks it. Or does he risk this humiliating deficiency to oblige certain interests?

II

Genesis of Pests and the Chemical Pesticides

WHILE endosulfan is used mostly on cashew plantations and is among the most toxic, there are other pesticides such as endrin, chlordane, heptachlor which are rampantly used on fruits and vegetables causing neurological problems, kidney damage, skin diseases etc. Any serious student of life sciences knows that the little creatures we call pests, mostly insects, are Nature’s own mechanisms to eliminate the weak individuals of crop-species to keep on promoting the crop’s vitality. They become harmful only when men reduce the diversities of crops. Diverse species of crops are the “standing assemblies of organic compounds” and are Nature’s barrier to any pest’s cross-over. Removal of these barriers creates conditions for pest multiplication. The cure for pestilence is not pesticide but restoration of diversities, which also serves to greatly enlarge the total food basket.

In the name of “green revolution”, the governments of India and many other countries, from the sixties of the last century onwards, kept on promoting the switch-over to near-monoculture of certain chosen species of crops, adopted the pseudo-science of factory-type chemicalised farming and invited the pest problem. Pests as epidemics are, therefore, the creation of the pseudo-science-led government which easily forgot that India’s traditional farming, because of its orientation to Nature, had become the world’s most productive agriculture for thousands of years. There was no need for chemical pesticides before the sixties of the last century.

III

Pests Develop Resistance; People Get Killed

PESTICIDES do not bring riddance from pests because the pests, after some time, become resistant to these chemicals. The time-gap between their two generations is very short, unlike that of humans. Their next generations become more virulent. Hence pesticides, in the main, become killers of men. This stark fact is sought to be hidden by the practitioners of reductionist science which is really a fragmented science. Such scientists can easily become servitors of agro-chemical companies and GM (genetically modified) seed corporations and nonchalantly cause mass killings.

This homicide takes place through the process known as bio-magnification whereby the broken-down products of pesticides keep accumulating as toxins and getting concentrated in the tissues of higher organisms through the food chain. Which means the increase in the concentration of toxins takes place not merely through the series of direct consumptions by the humans. There are processes and sequences of concentration through various channels. Intake of surface water or ground water containing pesticide particles increases concentration in humans. Pesticide washings in the waterways, ingested by small fishes, eaten by bigger fish, increase their concentration in the latter species. The pesticide-laden grass and/or stalks of plants ingested by goats, sheep lead to the concentration of toxins in these animals’ tissues. Finally, in the tissues of humans, the concentration of the toxins can become a hundred-fold. Humans are the worst sufferers because their foods and drinks are from the most numerous poisom-laden sources.

Intake of foods produced from crops laden with residues of killer chemicals, as noted earlier, can cause killer liver and kidney diseases and cancer Already the incidences of these diseases are rising fast in the country. If the pesticides are allowed to continue, their incidences will grow faster. Victims of such diseases will have every right to sue the government which shelters pesticide-loving ministers and their acolytes to willfully cause silent genocide.

The author is one of the country’s earliest environmentalists and a social philosopher. He can be contacted at sailendranathghosh@yahoo.com and sailendernathg@gmail.com

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