Friday, May 6, 2011

Long Live EndoSulfan !

There are many twists and turns in the story of Endosulfan global phase-out plan than merely the health and other environmental issues.

Endosulfan, one of the most effective and widely used broad spectrum pesticide, has been in use in Indian agriculture for not less than half a century. It has been recently making news with a lot of hues and cries about its possible role in causing malfunctions to human health and environment.

There were some reported cases of excessive use of endosulfan in Kasargod district of Kerala after years of aerial spraying in the region undertaken by Kerala Plantation Corporation Ltd. in cashew orchards, which is alleged to be the cause behind all the health related problems faced by the people of the region. According to Kerala government figures, there are 7,200 severely affected people, with over 25,000 people suffering the effects of this pesticide in other ways.

Kerala is hardly using 1% Endosulfan and 99% is used in other parts of India like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, and Gujarat. It is interesting to note that there are no reports of pesticide toxicity in other states, farmers, sprayers, and factory workers.

Endosulfan is presently banned in the states of Kerala and Karnataka, along with the ban in 60 other countries, including 27 EU member states and 21 countries in Africa. Strangely, none of the independent regulatory actions in many of these countries have been based on incidences of adverse human health.

The Endosulfan aerial spraying at the cashew plantation of Kasargod is taken up by Kerala Plantation Corporation at highly diluted concentration and faces a lot of air-drift. Here, large scale spraying is done by a public organisation, which is never supposed to go with higher levels of prescribed safety recommendations.

There are over 6000 workers employed in the manufacturing of Endosulfan in various plants of India. About 400 of these workers are employed in the Hindustan Insecticides Limited (HIL) plant at Eloor, Kochi. There is no report of Endosulfan toxicity among the workers, who used to be more exposed and vulnerable than the people getting affected from the residual effects of chemical sprays and groundwater. They used to work in the manufacturing facility since years without much sophisticated safety gadgets, that too, with direct exposure to highly concentrated dosage at the manufacturing stage. If any health hazards in the form of abortion, causing male infertility, genetic disorders, neural dysfunctions, etc. happen due to Endosulfan, as alleged by a few NGOs, they should be the first victims.

Generics vs Patented

Endosulfan is the world’s third largest selling generic insecticide and India is the world’s No. 1 producer and exporter of this pesticide with 80% of the global market, which accounts for about Rs 450 crore of its Rs 5,200 crore pesticide industry.

There are certain interest groups acting behind the scene which led to the misinformation and hatred against the pesticide, leading to the order of its slow phase-out at recently concluded UN’s Stockholm convention.

India is the leader in generics production and exports, but the MNCs are known for their patented molecules. But in a country like India, where affordability is the key factor for usage, the substitutes would cost dearly to Indian farmers and this will affect the production scenario.

Patented products are expensive and under the monopoly of few companies that can rule over the prices and manipulate the demand-supply to milk maximum benefit out of their products.

There is a clear trade war between the Indian companies, which are major in generic production, and multinationals, which now have the control over research molecules.

The key point to be noted here is that European Union was one of the strongest promoters of Endosulfan and has reaped immense benefits financially from the controversial chemical.

Chronology of events- Mere coincidence or Strategic plot?

  • In 2001, the European multinational decided to phase out Endosulfan.
  • In 2005, the European Commission stopped its 27 member countries from using Endosulfan.
  • In 2007, the European multinational stopped manufacturing Endosulfan, but continued to sell it.
  • In the same year – 2007 – the European Commission made a submission to the Stockholm Convention recommending the consideration of Endosulfan as Persistent Organic Pollutant (POP). The European multinational also announced that it would stop selling Endosulfan

by the end of 2010.

  • In October 2010, at the Stockholm Convention, the POPRC recommended that Endosulfan be listed as a POP.
  • Stockholm convention proposes for the global phase-out of Endosulfan in April, 2011.

Facts vs Fallacy

Looking into the allegations and possible role of Endosulfan in the Kasargod area, several committees were constituted to investigate the whole episode and its possible health/environmental effects in the region.

It has been reviewed four times by the central government committees and twice by the Kerala government. Each time, Endosulfan was issued a clean chit. But only NIOH survey concluded that Endosulfan is the cause of genetic problems in Kasargod. On the basis of this finding, certain interest groups waged a tirade.

There is not enough evidence built up by any NGO by conducting house hold survey in the affected areas. Most of the cases are that of poisoning due to misuse and abuse by farmers rather than generalised pollution effect. Advantage of such cheap and effective pesticide far outweighs the disadvantages.

Data and findings put forth by one such non-profit organisation asking for its immediate ban was found to be completely misleading. In their report, the amount of Endosulfan content in the blood and water has been shown as many more times higher than the lethal dosage of the chemical. At this concentration, the survival of human beings is impossible, not to talk about the health effects and genetic malformations!

There are many theories running in the media and society about the reasons for the ill health in the region. An independent study demonstrates that the symptoms in reported cases correspond to those of handi godu, a disease attributed to chronic inbreeding in the region. Another study by BARC indicated high level of natural radiation in the Kerala coastal areas. Besides this, coastal area is found to have vast amount of Thorium in its soil, which substantiates that Endosulfan is not the sole culprit for the health related problems faced by the people of Kasargod.

Pesticide Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India (PMFAI) and Endosulfan Manufacturers and Formulators Association (EMFA) had alleged that an international lobby was behind the move to ban the pesticide. They alleged that on the basis of submissions made by EU, the Chemical Review Committee of Persistent Organic Pollutant had recommended Endosulfan for listing as a (POP), which is based on voting, rather than on scientific data.

The business of protest

Fo the last one decade, it has become a habit to oppose anything new introduced, whether technology or product. Earlier it was hybrids, then GM crops, and now age-old Endosulfan. Developmental organisations/ NGOs have mushroomed across the country mainly doing the business of protest and most of the times promoted or funded by certain interest groups.

If certain section of NGOs protest any new technology/ product and are truly concerned about the environmental causes, why don’t they go with scientific investigation and real fact finding rather than making irresponsible and baseless claims under someone’s influence? They become nothing but self-proclaimed custodians and caretaker for the civic society, without even qualified for being so.

Many NGOs made the most of the situation, but they are least bothered about what the growers are going to face in the case of fallout and how to ensure a food secured nation.

Too much pressure tactics are adopted by these organisations to reach out to the common man without any scientific backing.

Manifold benefits

Endosulfan is a broad spectrum insecticide. It is effective against no less than 60 pests and over a large number of food and non-food crops.

There is no reported case of developing resistance by Endosulfan against any pest in any part of the world.

Safe to crop pollinators like honeybee and other beneficial insects.

In addition to its agricultural use, Endosulfan has, since 2006, been allowed in the USA as a veterinary insecticide for use as ear tags for lactating cows and cattle for control of ecto parasites. This shows that it is safe for use on animals too.

Possible implications

A majority of Indian farmers are small and marginal and so is their purchasing capacity. The Indian market is full of generic products and Endosulfan is one among the largest used pesticide in Indian agriculture. With the global phase-out plan for Endosulfan, Indian pesticide industry has to move in search of newer effective and affordable molecules capable of substituting Endosulfan.

The patented alternative to endosulfan is quite costlier and the patent of most of the patented products is with Europe based multinationals for which the Indian farmer has to pay a huge price.

Endosulfan and alternative cost comparison



(Rs per litre or kg)

Cost per acre (Rs.)




Endosulfan 35% EC





Chlorantraniliprole 18.5 SC





Thiamenthoxam actera





Imidaclorpid 17.8 % SL





Politics in the garb of Endosulfan

Kerala CM and other developmental agencies used pressure tactics through strike and fasting, enforcing the global ban and negotiating for Indian government’s support and public outpouring. Misinformation and superstition is ruling large in the country in the view of the global phase-out proposed by Stockholm convention.

Initially, the Government of India and Agriculture Ministry vehemently opposed the proposal to ban/ punish it for its unproved guilt, but they also yielded after the global insistence and wide across protests.

Even as a global ban has been enforced on Endosulfan, several questions regarding the motive behind the move remain unanswered.

There is NO, mark my words, NO scientific fact of Endosulfan being hazardous to the Human being or even the environment at the level it has been projected! But the biggest surprise is that the media has gone all gung-ho to support the ban against Endosulfan and has played a huge role in misleading the masses!

The uncalled for global ban has to be solely on the basis of sound science and not merely on media reports emerging from certain sections of the society.

In totality, the true story of the Kasargod is that there are people facing health problems, but there are no reports to prove that these problems are due to Endosulfan.

1 comment:

  1. One has to understand the problem. Instead of blaming the chemical, we should be blame the reckless usage (Indiscriminately excessive spray over the hills). Those perpetrators and the authorities, what have the allowed the contamination should be booked. Even the officials/ scientists who have failed to forewarn and recommend stringent controls, shall be censured.
    If trucks are crushing people on the roads:
    Who shall take the blame?
    1. Vehicle Manufacturers>
    2. Authorities who are not governing properly?
    3. Calcitrant, negligent pedestrains/ road users
    4. Hapless Victims?
    5. Reckless Drivers?