Sunday, Oct 11, 2020 14:30 [IST]
Last Update: Sunday, Oct 11, 2020 09:00 [IST]
Dr DEBAPRIYA MUKHERJEE
The common citizens often do not have access to real healthy food in the market as they are contaminated with residual herbicides like glyphosate and other residual pesticides and hormone. Among all of them, glyphosate sold by Bayer as Roundup is the world’s most widely used agrochemical globally with 9.4 million MT already sprayed. After the introduction of Genetically Modified (GM) Roundup Ready crops in 1996, which were engineered to tolerate Roundup herbicide, the use of Glyphosate has increased manifold. In India, , farmers spray glyphosate in harvested fields and burn the residue to make the fields ready for the next planting of paddy as manual weeding is expensive. Glyphosate does the job quickly. It is a total weedicide and kills grasses and hardy plants that have deep roots as it enters the leaves and goes to the roots through the stem. It acts by blocking photosynthesis. A few hours of bright sunshine after spraying is adequate to kill a plant in about a week. Other weedicides are not systemic. It is also used to remove the grass before construction of housing/industrial complex resulting in high residues in food and damage to soil ecosystem. The glyphosate was thought to be completely safe for many years as it works by inhibiting an enzyme pathway behind plant growth, which does not exist in humans.
Numerous regulatory agencies including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), all over the world have practically denied the possibility of any health hazard due to glyphosate. Numerous reports have covered the internal company documents showing how Monsanto’s influence over the EPA succeeded in suppressing health concerns. Last year courts in the US ordered Monsanto to pay damages of up to $2bn (£1.5bn) to individuals with cancer and faces many more lawsuits. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s cancer agency, the IARC, declared that it was “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Research shows that the percentage of the US population with detectable levels of glyphosate in their bodies increased from 12% in the mid-1970s to 70% by 2014. Thereby it is clear that US regulations have not kept pace with the latest science. Almost three-quarters of the peer-reviewed papers looked at by IARC found evidence of genotoxicity in glyphosate, compared with just 1% of the industry analyses.
Researchers at ADAS in 2014 based on study by an agricultural and environmental consultancy in the UK concluded “the loss of glyphosate would cause very severe impacts on UK agriculture and the environment with a 20% fall in wheat and rapeseed production and a 25% increase in greenhouse gas emissions – a rise of 12m tonnes a year – if glyphosate was banned. Because glyphosate weed killer allows planting without ploughing, which helps stop carbon being released to the atmosphere. The ADAS research was used by the NFU in lobbying against an EU ban in 2017 when the renewal of the licence for glyphosate was being considered. Bayer said farmers around the globe rely on glyphosate to provide enough food for the world’s growing population. But a German transparency campaign group, Lobby Control revealed two pro-glyphosate German studies that were partly funded by Monsanto and published in 2011 and 2015 without the funding being declared and told “This is an unacceptable form of opaque lobbying,”. Considering the ill-effects of glyphosate, 1.2 million citizens filed a petition calling for an EU ban but the pesticide licence was renewed for five years. However, this was far shorter than the 15 years that had been sought.
Despite its carcinogenic effect use of the chemical has grown exponentially since, with the chemical giant Monsanto – purchased by Bayer in 2018 – dominating the market. The researchers, based on scientific evidence, have explored the dangers of Glyphosate --- harmful to both human health and the environment. Argentine scientists found that Glyphosate causes birth defects in frogs and chickens. Doctors at Paraguay & Argentina have reported on the serious ill-effects like infertility, stillbirths, miscarriage and cancer in GM Soy producing areas. The Chinese Army has reportedly banned all GM foods due to Glyphosate residues. Epidemiological evidence supports strong temporal correlations between glyphosate usage on crops and a multitude of cancers that are reaching epidemic proportions, including breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, thyroid cancer, liver cancer, bladder cancer and myeloid leukaemia. Glyphosate in the lentils, originated from Canada, is suspected to enter the Indian stomach in ever increasing doses and probably it is one of the major contributing factors behind the apparent runaway increase of autoimmune diseases. This glyphosate is a powerful antibiotic that kills a lot of beneficial gut bacteria.
US regulators set one “safe” level for all of us but they ignore the compounding effects of our daily exposures to combined pesticides and other industrial chemicals. They did not consider the higher risks at different times in our lives and in different conditions: a developing fetus, for instance, is particularly vulnerable to toxic exposures, as are children and the immunocompromised. New research also shows that chemicals called “endocrine disruptors” can increase risk of cancers, learning disabilities, birth defects, obesity, diabetes and reproductive disorders, even at incredibly small levels.
So there is clear evidence that the regulatory agencies, who are responsible for defining the safety of foods, did not recommend the actual safety limit of foods based on sound scientific evidence that would ensure absolute no harm to human health. In this context, it is pertinent to recollect the warning of the famous scientist named Sri Bernhard Url-“Eroding trust in regulatory agencies will not improve democratic accountability and don’t attack science agencies for political gain (Nature553, 381, 2018)” - which brings to limelight how scientific assessment is being practically dictated by the corporate brigade.
Last summer the EU announced plans to halve use of pesticides by 2030 and transition at least 25% of agriculture to organic. But in the US, despite ever-growing demand for organic food, the government continues to favor the profits of the pesticide industry over our health, spending billions of our taxpayer dollars to prop up pesticide-intensive farming while organic programs and research are woefully underfunded.
In India, after planning to ban 27 pesticides, the Centre has now moved to curb the use of glyphosate, a widely-used herbicide in the country. A draft notification issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, published on July 8 said “No person shall use glyphosate except through Pest Control Operators,”. The Restriction on use of Glyphosate Order, 2020, will come into force on the date of its final publication in the Official Gazette, the Ministry said in a notification. The use of glyphosate has been on the rise as farmers have been increasingly relying on chemicals to tackle labour shortage, rising costs and to protect their yields from weeds. According to the industry, the government’s proposed move is impractical as there are not many PCOs in the farm sector and that it may impact the sales of glyphosate and its product formulations.
While issuing this draft notification, the government did not critically appraised the full set of repercussions with glyphosate considering its ill-effect, correct dose of chemical that would not harm human health and environment, availability of PCO in rural area. So the Government may think of banning the chemical to ensure safe food and to protect environment.
Therefore, scientific truth must not be manipulated simply to maximize the profit of the corporate brigade at the expense of human health and environment. Despite knowing the ill effects of glyphosate, a huge amount of toxic lentils, pulses and chickpea are still being imported from countries that are using glyphosate and other synthetic chemical. The high level of pesticides including Glyphosate residues in both Indian and Canadian pulses, based on the findings of the researchers, is a matter of serious health risk to a billion plus nation, as dal is ubiquitous in our diet. Moreover in India, no well equipped laboratory, with trained analyst, is presently available for generation of reliable analytical results of presence of glyphosate in food products. Not only glyphosate, other agricultural chemicals are also continuously threatening human health and environmental components. There is emergent need to seek support, knowledge and innovation to save the environment from further destruction and humanity from even extinction.