India File

Glyphosate — the deadly weedicide

| Updated on May 21, 2018

At the heart of the controversy over the sale of herbicide-tolerant (HT) Bt cottonseeds is the use of the weedicide glyphosate.

The use of glyphosate on the HT (herbicide tolerant) cotton crop kills the weeds, while allowing the resistant plants to grow. For the beleaguered Indian farmers, who are battling rising costs and shortage of labour, HT cotton is the latest attraction. The perception is that it would help them to cut costs on weeding, which account for a third of the cultivation costs. In fact, a ban on glyphosate will contain the use of these unapproved HT seeds, feel experts. The consumption of glyphosate has been rising in recent years, according to agriculture ministry data.

Responding to a question in Parliament on the use of glyphosate for cotton, Minister of State for Agriculture, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, recently said, “glyphosate is registered for use in the country on tea and non-crop area.”

He also said: “The Anupam Verma Committee constituted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare did not review this chemical for its continued use or otherwise in the country because this pesticide was not banned in any other country.”

Linked to cancer?

Indo-Canadian food security activist and author of Poison Foods of North America Tony Mitra, disagrees with this view. Citing the case of Sri Lanka — which he says recently lifted its ban on the use of glyphosate on tea and select crops for a limited period following pressure from exporters which value it for keeping costs down — Mitra said that the use of the herbicide has been linked to kidney damage among sugarcane plantation workers. Tea estate workers have reported a rise in oesophagal cancers, Mitra argues.

He says that anti-GMO activists have overlooked this issue as well, despite its health effects. “Glyphosate should be banned, or the Indian government should come out with studies or data to show why it supports its use,” he observes. Glyphosate is used extensively across the country in food crops. “Imported pulses from North America and Australia have alarmingly high levels of the herbicide,” he points out.

Mitra cites an FSSAI order of December 2017, which says that the maximum permissible residue levels of glyphosate are: 1 mg/kg in tea, 0.01 mg/kg in rice, 0.05 mg/kg in meat. “However, the government’s approach to the issue has been rather casual,” he says.

He refers to the observations of Stephanie Seneff, Senior Research Scientist at MIT, who has said, “It is destructive of human health and it is threatening the extinction of multiple species. I believe it will eventually be proven that glyphosate gets into proteins by mistake in place of glycine.” This has been linked to the epidemic in auto-immune diseases, “most importantly autism and dementia”.

Says Mitra: “People need to force their Governments at all levels to start testing food for glyphosate and to reject foods that have it.”

Whether glyphosate attracts more policy attention, both with respect to cotton and other crops, in the days to come, remains to be seen.

Published on May 21, 2018

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