Monday, January 3, 2011

The uncalled for story of Endosulfan ban

India, the largest producer, exporter and consumer of Endosulfan has opposed the global ban of the ill-fated chemical, after much dramatised events of anti-pesticide lobby groups documented and presented many cooked data and stories of health and environmental impacts of the same, mainly in the cashew plantations of Kasargod district of Kerala in the view of its rampant use.

Since long time, Endosulfan is being blamed/ targeted for causing persistence soil pollution, adverse effects on human health, in form of many of the dysfunctions and deformities and other adverse impacts on ecology.

In view of the same, Government constitutes many of the review / enquiry/ fact finding committees but none found any of the objectionable ill effects of endosulfan either on human beings/ ecology as claimed by the not-so-profit groups of pesticide activists.

Several studies conducted by Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad, Achuthan Commission, Kerala Agriculture University, IMA, Dubey Committee have concluded of no linkage between use of Endosulfan and the reports of health problems to the use of Endosulfan on the health problems reported at the Kasargod district of Kerala. All these studies have been conducted as recently as in the last eight years. Al claims have found and proved to be ‘hyped’ by the agencies to get funding for from the sides, gaining profit out of the ban imposition.

Kerala had stopped use of Endosulfan in 2005 and it is strange that the harmful effects were brought to light only recently. Endosulfan was sprayed across 10000 acres of Cashew crops throughout Kerala, prior to the ban - had Endosulfan been the cause of physical problems inside Kasargod, the Kerala state should have witnessed similar cases elsewhere as well.

India consumes around 12 million litres annually, of which more than a third is by Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal. When no such harmful effects have been reported from these and other major consuming States, how can endosulfan cause problems in Kerala, which, even at its peak, was consuming a few kilolitres.

It is high time to seek an independent investigation into the flaws observed in the study which was released by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH). The NIOH study was adopted by NGOs for propaganda against the generic pesticide Endosulfan since year 2002. Based on unscientific approach, the demands made by local NGOs should not be taken into account for considering such a serious decision affecting our country’s agriculture and food security system.

Major facts about Endosulfan:

  • India is the world’s No. 1 producer, exporter and consumer of endosulfan
  • India supplies 28 million litres (70%) of the total global endosulfan market of 40 million litres
  • The 28 million litres include 12 million litres for domestic market (worth Rs 270 crores) and 16 million litres of exports (worth Rs 180 crores)
  • Major Endosulfan manufacturers include Excel Crop Care, Coromandal International and Hindustan Insecticides Ltd.

Domestic pesticide manufacturers and Industry body, Pesticides Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India (PMFAI) accuses Multinational firms of their vested interests driving the demand for banning Endosulfan pesticide in India, as the MNCs are interested in promoting their patented products in the country. As the much sought for International ban would create a market for their products in the third world countries.

Endosulfan is being used in the country for the last 50 years and there has been no such scientific records available, which indicate that the use of this chemical has resulted into serious health hazards of any kind, stated International Stewardship Centre, an NGO working for chemical industry, and of the pragmatic view that replacing Endosulfan with any other chemical would be at least 10 times costlier for the Indian farmers. As a litre of Endosulfan costs Rs 250 to Indian farmers whereas any chemical manufactured by multinational would cost more than Rs 2,500 per litre thus making the use of pesticides 10 times costlier and unaffordable to the majority of small and marginal Indian farmers. Moreover, it is soft on pollinators such as honey bees, while being beneficial for lady bird beetle, chrysoperla, trichograma and other friendly insects.

The Indian pesticide industry has opposed listing of endosulfan as a ‘Persistent Organic Pollutant' (POP) under the Stockholm Convention, suggesting that the proposal is inspired by European agrochemical interests.

Endosulfan has been manufactured and exported out of Europe for over 55 years. There were no issues over its use until 2001, when the sole European manufacturer (Bayer CropScience) also decided to phase out the product from its portfolio. Following the particular manufacturer's move, the European Union (EU), in 2005, withdrew all authorisations for use of plant protection products containing endosulfan. Two years later, the same multinational stopped manufacturing endosulfan, even while continuing with its sales. The same year, the EU sought listing of endosulfan as a POP before the Stockholm Convention.

All these actions may be coincidental. But there are, no doubt, strong business interests which wouldn't mind if farmers are forced to replace endosulfan, which is an affordable and generic insecticide, with costlier proprietary molecules. It is purely about patented-versus-generic pesticides.

Endosulfan is the world's third largest-selling generic insecticide, with a 40-million litre-plus market valued at over $300 million. Currently, the Indian market of Endosulfan is about 12 million litres annually valued at Rs 270 crore. In India, there are three manufacturers of Endosulfan, including Hindustan Insecticides Ltd. At present, the overall Indian agrochemical market stands at Rs 5,200 crore and Endosulfan Rs 300 crore.

The Stockholm Convention, to which India is a signatory, requires parties to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment. While a POP Review Committee of the Convention, in October, agreed on categorising endosulfan as a POP, a final decision would, however, be in the hands of a Conference of Parties in April 2011.

In the meantime, some 60 countries, including the 27 EU members States and 21 in Africa, have favoured banning the agrochemical. These countries account for hardly 12 per cent of the total global endosulfan consumption. Some of them, especially in Africa, have no choice, as they export cocoa and other farm products to the EU. On the other hand, India, China and Argentina have come out strongly against the proposed ban.

There are over 6000 workers employed in the manufacturing of Endosulfan in various plants of India and 400 of these workers are employed in the HIL plant. But no adverse health effects have been reported of the thousands worker and where the areas where its use is banned talks of all kind of malfunctioning and ill effects.

At present India has banned 27 pesticides for manufacture, import and use. However, in the study done by Consumer Voice, of the five banned pesticides that foodstuffs were tested for, four were found to be present in various fruits and vegetables.

The authorities need to improve Maximum Reside Limit(MRL) standards, which is at much higher sides when compared with the values of European/ American countries or, and put some specific pesticides on the list of banned pesticides. But it can be well argued that India still uses far less pesticides than many other countries. The real problem is that many farmers do not know the right time to spray pesticides, nor the right amount that needs to be sprayed. So proper education&training of growers about the safe pesticide practices with strengthening the extension system will only make the difference for all stakeholders of the sector.

Indian regulatory agency has clear conscience about the whole thing and clarified its stand of not favouring the move to ban the pesticide in lack of any strong evidence and review done by several committees, declaring Endosulfan as safe for both human beings and ecology.

1 comment:

  1. Well written, Abid. It is important to note that the continued use of Endosulfan is in the interest of Indian farmers who are already grappling with high costs. The NGOs are always avoiding scientific bases for any argument as many of them receive heavy funding from the EU. Now they are demanding that the government not conduct anymore studies as they are fully aware that nothing to support their claims will be found. That flawed NIOH report is being cited as basis by the human rights commission too. I dont understand whether they are purposely overseeing the fact that the report was flawed in more than a dozen ways or they are just plain stupid.