The Kasargod conundrum

It appears that Endosulfan was good for the world only as long as the EU was manufacturing and exporting it. Endosulfan was a widely-used pest-protection in agricultural economies for decades. There have been no alleged ‘victims’ of Endosulfan anywhere in the world except the select provinces in Kerala and Dakshina Kannada where trial by media has shaped public perception over eight years to promote questionable claims.

In response to claims connecting Endosulfan with human disorders in these regions, six committees and expert groups including representatives from health, environment and agriculture departments were set up by the governments of Kerala, Karnataka andIndia. Each committee has concluded that none of the alleged victims were conclusively affected by Endosulfan. The committee findings have been methodically dismissed at the will of vested interests in the form of NGOs and certain media. Many erroneous reports emerged from the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) report titled, ‘Report of the investigations of unusual illnesses allegedly produced by Endosulfan exposure in Padre village, of Kasargode district (N. Kerala),’ which was proved to be fundamentally flawed. Among these was the noted NIOH report, ‘Effect of Endosulfan on Male Reproductive Development.’

The NIOH report published in 2002 had fundamental inconsistencies as observed by scientists and experts. For instance, the residue levels reported by the NIOH were far below the minimum detection limit of the instruments used for the study. Since the raw data recorded by NIOH for determining Endosulfan residues in water, soil and blood samples were fundamentally flawed, the subsequent analyses were further divergent. Letters were sent to NIOH under the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) seeking copies of raw data and chromatograms relevant to the study. It took three hearings and two orders by the Chief Information Commissioner for the 1,700 pages of raw data to enter public domain. The inconsistent excuses given by NIOH authorities while refusing the request made under the RTI Act were telling signs of a cover-up. Most of the released data has been ‘masked.’ On examining the remaining data, experts learned that the analysis conducted by NIOH had sure laboratory failings. The conclusions drawn did not corroborate with the data and the complete analysis is now believed to have been drawn up. International conventions and regulatory authorities worldwide, including theRotterdam andStockholm conventions have referenced the NIOH report while reviewing Endosulfan.

A Dodgy Game: NGOs like Kerala-based Thanal and Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) have all produced reports linking Endosulfan to adverse health problems including cancer, infertility, birth defects and neurotic disorder. However, not only are these based on the tainted NIOH reports, but also deliberate. A $3,250 donation was made to Thanal in 2001 by EU-funded Pesticides Action Network (PAN). A similar contribution was made by the EU to CSE to implement a project on ‘Polley Research and Awareness Creation in the Field of Environmental Health Interface and Development of an Alternative Pollution Monitoring System’ from 2000 to 2006. One of the objectives of the CSE programme was to ‘catalyse the formation of pressure groups.’ The intent of these pressure groups is quite obvious. (Copies of these documents are with the authors.) CSE had also targeted Pepsi and Coca Cola alleging that their soft drinks had high residues of pesticides. Their finds were later quashed by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Is it coincidence that EU made donations to the NGOs at the same time that it was seeking to discontinue Endosulfan production?

Supported internationally by PAN, EJF (Environment Justice Foundation) and I-PEN (International POP’s Elimination Network), such NGOs with vested interests have effectively used media to generate a negative public perception of Endosulfan. Studies with results that were not in keeping with their agenda have been publicly mocked and rejected. Such was the case of aKeralaAgriculturalUniversitystudy that found insignificant residues of Endosulfan in collected samples in February 2001.

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The Battle between European Pesticide Manufacturers and India’s Farmers

Since India overtook the global production of Endosulfan, Indian farmers were able to amply reap the benefits of this beneficial-friendly, cost-effective pesticide. Assumed to be in use for almost three decades in India prominently in the states of West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, it has become a staple pest-protection for crops such as cotton, tea and coffee. The Indian farmer spends a reasonable sum of about Rs 250 a liter on Endosulfan. Endosulfan is safe on beneficials and pollinators like honeybees, and has been proved to be reasonably safe on users given that necessary precautions for handling are taken, as with any pesticide. Unlike its substitutes that develop resistance of use within 3–5 years of product introduction, Endosulfan is as effective as it was half a century ago. It has been observed that in comparison to Chloropyrifos and other organic methods of pest control in coffee plantations, Endosulfan has been most successful in preventing incidences of berry borer. Not only is the pesticide affordable, but fast-acting. This attribute ensures quick crop damage control and prevents huge losses from infestations. Endosulfan protects a variety of 29 crops from 60 types of infestations. Imidachloprid (Rs 2,000/litre), Thiamethoxam (Rs 3,200/litre) and Coregen (Rs 700/litre) are the pesticides promoted as replacements for Endosulfan. Wherever Endosulfan has been substituted by more expensive alternatives like Neonicotinoids, it has resulted in the elimination of pollinators. In their absence, farmers will have to depend on expensive bee boxes that cost as much as Rs 90,000 to pollinate a one hectare farm. Thus, a shift from using Endosulfan will undoubtedly amount to manifold increase in farm input cost and further worsen the dismal condition of Indian farmers. Endosulfan is the third largest-selling generic insecticide globally with a market value of more than $300 million. 40 million litres of the pesticide is used globally, while 12 million litres are consumed in India per annum. In an effort to convert this massive Endosulfan market into one for its patented substitutes, the EU has been unlawfully pushing for its inclusion in the list of Persistent Organic Pollutants at the Stockholm and Rotterdam conventions. For this, it has attempted to stir up a melee through dubious reports spun by NGOs like Kerala-based Thanal and Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). These studies are also based on the flawed NIOH report. On the basis of such evaluations and by downplaying the findings of the government committees, the nexus of polity, activists and media are mounting pressure on the central government for a nation-wide ban on Endosulfan. Political parties are viewing the episode as an opportunity to appease their vote banks. In Kerala, where Endosulfan has been banned, there is much emphasis on the virtues of organic farming. However, it is doubtful whether the same would be equally effective for employment on a large scale across India while ensuring minimal crop loss. Recent news reports suggest that the ban has compelled farmers there to resort to smuggling Endosulfan into the state in cans and bottles. With no substantial evidence to prove the Kasargod claims, it is prudent to decide whether the whims of vested interests are significant enough to effect a change that is sure to impact the enormous section of the Indian population engaged in agriculture. References: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2010/07/28/stories/2010072852042200.htm A Srinivas “Planters find ally in endosulfan to combat berry borer in coffee” in The Hindu Business line, July 28, 2010

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Reviewing the Alternatives of Endosulfan

Since EU lost its share of the Endosulfan pie when it went generic decades ago, their recent promotion of patented pesticides is only part of its attempt to re-enter global pesticide trade. Since their attempts to compete with Indian Endosulfan producers and regain their lost markets did not meet with success, some of them are understood to have resorted to unfair trade practices. By churning out unfavourable stories surrounding Endosulfan through patronage to certain NGOs, the EU appears to be out to recapture their markets by any means possible. Now, in order to counter the affordability, utility and beneficial softness of Endosulfan, EU is engaging in illegal attempts to introduce Endosulfan as a Persistent Organic Pollutant in the Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions. They hope that a total ban will initiate a shift in global pesticide demand patterns.

Endosulfan is a broad-spectrum pesticide active ingredient that is sprayed on a range of 29 crops to protect them from about 60 types of pests. The most prominent benefit of Endosulfan over other pesticides, including those touted as its replacements, is that it is safe for beneficials and pollinators, such as honeybees. Endosulfan is the last pesticide in use that is recommended as a first-spray during pollination by agriculture scientists and entomologists worldwide. The replacement of Endosulfan would not only result in incalculable and irreplaceable harm to biodiversity and the agriculture ecosystem, but also present an additional cost of pollination to farmers. SinceIndiabecame a prominent Endosulfan producer,India’s farmers have trusted its use in a variety of crops, especially coffee, tea and cotton. The states of Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are the top consumers of Endosulfan inIndia. More than 12 million litres of Endosulfan is used here per annum. In order to be popularly accepted, any substitute for Endosulfan will have to possess similar attributes.

Imidachloprid (Rs 2,000/litre), Thiamethoxam (Rs 3,200/litre) and Coregen (Rs 700/litre) are the pesticides promoted as replacements for Endosulfan. Presently, the Indian farmer spends Rs 250/litre for Endosulfan. Therefore, the obvious repercussion of a shift from using Endosulfan is the manifold increase in the cost of pest-protection. The next cost to emerge with the replacement of Endosulfan is that of the potential purchase of bee boxes. Bee boxes cost as much as Rs 90,000 for pollinating a 1-hectare field of crops in the absence of honeybees. Wherever Endosulfan has been substituted by more expensive alternatives like Neonicotinoids, it has resulted in the elimination of pollinators. Imidachloprid, the most popular Neonicotinoid is blamed for killing bees and is banned in France, Germany and Slovenia, among other European nations.

Affordability as a factor will be an impossible offering for patented pesticides from the EU. If the European agenda to free up a brand new market by banning Endosulfan meets success, farmers in developing nations and India in particular, will be left in financial ruin. If they consider options touted by local governments, they will have to rely on methods like organic farming. This means risking their produce for a method that if successful, may not possess the effectiveness for a required scale. News reports suggest that the present situation has now compelled farmers in Kerala, where Endosulfan is banned, to resort to smuggling the pesticide into the state in cans and bottles. The clash of ‘patented versus generics’ threatens to leave many such innocents in a lurch.

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Will The Government Force Farmers To Commit More Suicides

Agriculture, the principal occupation in India has been acutely inequitable to its practitioners over the last couple of decades. With former late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s credo ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’ lain to waste, farmer suicides have since been the cause of much socio-economic debate. It is estimated that a farmer owning 15 acres of land and considered well-off has an income of just a little more than what he would have earned if he were to earn a yearly legal minimum wage. Budget 2010 earmarked considerations for automatic management systems and cold storage. Whether these will offer tangible relief to agriculture is still to be seen. Yet, it is becoming essential for the government to lay greater emphasis on the affairs of cultivation by developing adequate sensitivity to the support infrastructure required today.

A time bomb in the making is the issue of Endosulfan. SinceIndiaovertook the global production of Endosulfan, Indian farmers have reaped the benefits of the pesticide for a wide range of crops including cotton, tea and coffee. In use for almost three decades in India in the states of West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, the beneficial-friendly, cost-effective farming pest-protection costs a farmer Rs 250/litre. In case of a ban on Endosulfan, Indian cultivators will be forced to purchase patented European pesticides at much higher prices. Imidachloprid, a product touted as a replacement to Endosulfan costs Rs 2,000/litre. Other alternative pesticides such as Thiamethoxam (Rs 3,200/litre) and Coregen (Rs 700/litre) are expensive as well. Unlike Endosulfan, most alternatives destroy much-needed honeybees and other beneficial populations required for pollination. It may force farmers to look for highly expensive alternatives for pollination. Besides, the alternatives to Endosulfan also develop resistance of use within 3–5 years of product introduction.

InIndia, farmers depend on naturally occurring colonies of honeybees and beneficials like ladybird beetle, chrysoperla, trichograma for the pollination of their crops. As they are naturally occurring, they play their part at no cost to farmers. Most of Endosulfan’s substitutes are harsh on bees and are therefore banned in many nations. Today farmers in countries where Endosulfan is banned depend on the use of bee boxes for pollination. Such bumblebees initiate pollination at a cost of US$1 per bee (approximately Rs 45). At that rate, it would cost Rs 90,000 for the Indian farmer to pollinate a 1-hectare field of crops in the absence of honeybees. Not only will the use of such pesticides result in almost a ten-fold cost increase for farmers, but also destroy the agro-ecosystem.

Today, NGOs and local polity in southernIndiaare heavily espousing the benefits of organic farming in Kerala where Endosulfan has been banned. However, with limited financial resources to purchase costly pesticides or absorb losses from ineffective pest-control, cultivators do not have many options. Recent news reports suggest that the situation has now compelled farmers in the region to resort to smuggling the pesticide into the state in common cans and bottles.

Due to increasing costs being incurred by farmers and not enough returns, most of them are already debt-ridden. Some are already selling off valuable stretches of their fertile lands to industries and urban developers. With no substantial scientific evidence to prove the Endosulfan claims in Kerala and Dakshina Kannada, it is prudent to decide whether the whims of vested interests are significant enough to effect a change that is sure to impactIndia’s colossal farming population.

References

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmers%27_suicides_in_India#cite_note-12

M Rajivlochan “Farmers and fire-fighters” in Indian Express, August 28, 2007

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Petition

Endosulfan has been used for over 50 years across the world and has proven to be a key element in the integrated pest management systems across various countries. There has been no evidence of Endosulfan affecting human health or on any other plants and organisms. The sole case, raised by some NGOs and other vested interests, in the anti-Endosulfan campaign has not been scientifically proven as yet and has been questioned on its credibility by a series of scientific studies. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support on reports that link Endosulfan to diseases and deformities in Kasargod, Kerala. On the other hand, we have our own doubts as to how this tragedy happened only in Kerala because Endosulfan is used in large volumes across India. All the reports which claim that Endosulfan is the cause behind the deformities in Kerala have been found to have scientific data gaps and some of them have proven to be forged. We believe that the NGOs that champion the ban on Endosulfan have been directly funded by the European Union (EU) through some of its official channels.

Being in use for over half a century, Endosulfan is very effective on pests while being soft on pollinators. It is said to be almost equivalent to the neem, which is considered in India as the best natural pesticide. Also, a liter of Endosulfan costs about Rs. 250 making it extremely affordable and economical for the poor farmers. And the reason behind it being so cheap is that it is a generic molecule. The patented pesticides proposed by the EU to replace Endosulfan have not been cleared scientifically as safe and are up to 10 times more expensive. We would like to reiterate that Endosulfan, unlike majority of the other pesticides, is soft on pollinators which help the farmers by pollinating and cross-pollinating. This is very essential for the ecosystem as well as for farmers.

WHO and other such organizations of international importance do not consider Endosulfan as carcinogenic or genotoxic. It has been proven that Endosulfan degrades very fast in the environment and also in the human and animal bodies, which we believe is enough to know that it is not harmful to humans or the ecosystem.

So if you want good food in the future and want our farmers to provide us with the same, sign this petition!

http://www.petitiononline.com/saveendo/petition.html

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Cascading effects of flawed NIOH report on Endosulfan

In 2002, National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad published a study titled, “Report of the investigations of unusual illnesses allegedly produced by Endosulfan exposure in Padre Village of Kasargod district (N. Kerala)”. It was followed by another study made by the NIOH titled, “Effect of Endosulfan on Male Reproductive Development.” Both of these studies have become available on internet for public access. During thorough readings of these reports, scientists and experts have noted that the studies have several serious scientific errors relating to the residue analysis of Endosulfan.

 

Experts have found that the Instrument Detection Limit (IDL) of Gas Chromatography (GC), which is used for chemical residue analyses in these reports, was 1 part per billion (1 ppb) for Endosulfan. However, the studies carry residue finding as low as 0.4 ppb and 0.5 ppb, which fall much below the minimum detection level of the instrument used. This is scientifically indemonstrable. There were many more representative omissions and flaws noted in these studies by experts.

 

Subsequently, several requests were made by experts to the NIOH to provide ‘raw data’ for review and reprocessing to uncover any laboratory fraud made in this case. But, all these requests, made under the Right to Information Act of India, fell on deaf ears. For many years, NIOH has made various excuses for hiding these details but finally in 2010, with the interference of the Central Information Commission, provided 1,700 pages of raw data to the experts. However, large amount of information has been masked by the NIOH in the shared raw data. Now the question arises that if NIOH is confident of its work, why has this data been masked? Such acts of NIOH provide much insight and indicate that the data and analysis of the studies, and the resulting findings were based on inaccurate readings.

 

These studies have been cited at various national and international forums and referred to by various Indian and global authorities to propose a ban on Endosulfan. When found fundamentally flawed and incorrect, they should have created uproar across the world. Questions should be raised on the credibility of the NIOH. As a government body, NIOH is responsible to validate reports before publishing them. However, its attempts to discourage wide review of the raw data are astonishing.

 

On November 15, 2010 a group around 10,000 in number and comprising workers’ families and farmers, have presented a memorandum to the District Collector of Bhavnagar, requesting immediate withdrawal of the NIOH report on the grounds discussed above. The Indian Chemical Council has also written to the Prime Minister of India, requesting a call for a comprehensive scientific audit of the NIOH reports and to punish those who are guilty of committing laboratory frauds.

 

On account of various such requests, a panel has been formed to study the impact of Endosulfan in Kerala. The expert panel, which includes representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment, will be directly administered by the Health Department. The Central Government is expected to reference the findings of this expert panel before taking its decisions on the Endosulfan issue.

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Taking Advantage

I am always amazed by the extent to which we humans take advantage of others’ problems. And we go to an even greater (read lower) extent when that person is not well equipped with knowledge about a certain thing related to his/her problem.

Take an example of my friend. He had this friend of his and she was feeling very lonely and wanted to be with someone. He took the opportunity and asked her out. They were together for a while and when the physical part of the relationship was done with, he dumped her. She was devastated. It was for her other friends that she got back to normal in a while.

Well, this happens not only on the personal level, but on the national level as well. Our dearest politicians make promises to the people who need them the most and hence, believe the politicians’ lies. And as it was all lie, the promises are never kept after they get elected.

Look at it this way, you are awfully hungry. A friend comes and offers you food in return of some work he wants you to do. You do the work, but afterwards he hands you pictures of food and not actual food. Won’t you feel enraged at his act? Didn’t he break your trust?

To give you an even better example, take the endosulfan issue. The NGOs offered help to the victims of some kind of disease. What they did at the same time was, took money from the EU and related the whole diseases and problems to endosulfan, the pesticide which was sprayed aerially in that area in Kerala. And sent out pictures of the victims all over the media and hence all over the world and created an anti-endosulfan view around the world. Well, i suppose the NGOs were there to help the victims, but if I know correctly, none of them have been properly helped. Neither did the NGOs help the victims, nor are they helping the government to help the victims and because of it, in whatever camps, etc are being organized by the government for the victims, people who are not victims are also joining it and taking advantages and the facilities that the government provides for the victims. Well, all this because i believe the NGOs never really wanted to work for the victims. What they took advantage of was the illiteracy of the villagers.

We all are bloody opportunists, what makes us good or bad is, how badly do we take advantage of others’ problems.There are some people though who never actually take advantage of others’ issues, but they are very rare.

What side would you want to end up on?

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