Endosulfan ban: no clear battle lines drawn

Bangalore: Mohammed Asheel, assistant nodal officer of the Kerala government’s endosulfan rehabilitation programme, recalls his initial scepticism at the reported effects of the fertilizer in Kasargod, the northernmost district of Kerala.

“I found it difficult to believe that 158 different diseases were caused by one chemical like endosulfan,” said Asheel, a doctor who coordinated relief work in Kasargod in 2010, at a press conference held by a Kannada newspaper in Bangalore in March this year. “But when I further studied the pesticide, I realized the mechanisms causing diseases were well documented.”

Controversial chemical: A file photo of a farmer spraying insecticide in his field. India is the world’s largest consumer of endosulfan.

Controversial chemical: A file photo of a farmer spraying insecticide in his field. India is the world’s largest consumer of endosulfan.

Asheel played a role in the culmination of a sequence of events that began with a 2002 study carried out by the National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad, suggesting that misuse of endosulfan through aerial spraying over the cashew estates of Kasargod may have caused a range of genetic, reproductive and developmental disorders. A follow-up study in 2003 by the Kerala government also pointed the finger at endosulfan. The state banned the pesticide that year.

Neighbouring Karnataka has now imposed a 60-day ban after similar health effects were reported in the district of Dakshina Kannada. Environmental groups are welcoming the ban, but asking why there isn’t a nationwide one.

India is the supplier of 70% of the world’s endosulfan needs—a market valued at $300 million (Rs 1,340 crore). Out of the 9,000 tonnes India produces every year, half is bought by the country’s 75 million farmers, making it the world’s largest consumer of endosulfan.

Much of it is used by farmers with small and marginal holdings, because endosulfan is cheap—Rs 286 per kg—and has a broad spectrum of effects. Alternatives such as flubendiamine and imidacloprid cost Rs 13,800 and Rs 2,229 per kg, respectively. Endosulfan is sprayed on all major crops such as vegetables, cotton, pulses and rice to combat pests such as whitefly, leafhoppers, aphids and cabbage worms, without harming insects such as bees, which help in pollination. “This is one of the safest insecticides for pollinators,” said A.K. Chakravarthy, entomology department head at Bangalore’s University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS).

While pesticide manufacturers dispute the evidence on endosulfan’s safety, as many as 70 countries, including the US, Australia, Brazil and 27 European Union (EU) members have restricted its use, up from 17 in 2000.

The pressure on endosulfan is mounting. In 2010, the persistent organic pollutant review committee under the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty to eliminate the usage of toxic chemicals, nominated endosulfan for inclusion in a global ban list. Discussions on this will happen in April, when the Stockholm Convention meets again.

The EU is pushing for a ban, with countries such as India resisting.

“Twenty-seven of the countries with bans are European—they act as a major bloc. Now they have stopped importing cocoa from Africa, resulting in bans in 21 African countries which depend on EU as an export market,” said R. Hariharan, chairman of the International Stewardship Centre (ISC), a non-governmental organization that has observer status at the convention, and is working to prevent the ban.

Under the Stockholm Convention, a chemical that is sought to be banned has to be persistent in the environment, bioaccumulative, capable of long-range transport and undermines human health.

Persistence in environment refers to how fast the chemical degrades, as measured by its half-life—the time taken for it to decay to 50% of its size. The convention considers a half-life greater than 183 days as persistent, and the US Environmental Protection Agency’s estimate of 1,336 days under aerobic conditions for endosulfan puts it in the highly-persistent territory. In tropical conditions, though, the half-life is shorter at 161-385 days.

Bioaccumulative means the chemical increases in concentration in the food chain with time.

“Endosulfan belongs to the organochloride group. Chemicals in this group, like the banned DDT, are known to be bioaccumulative,” said P.K. Shetty, researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Sciences at Bangalore’s Indian Indian Institute for Science. “Endosulfan can get into the food chain in many ways—from algae, into fish, into humans. Or it can be consumed by humans through contaminated wheat or fruit.”

Studies have demonstrated long-range environmental transport of endosulfan as well. A 2005 study carried out in the Arctic region, and published in the journal Science of The Total Environment, detected elevated levels of endosulfan, whereas levels of banned chemicals like DDT were falling. This shows it travelled beyond the immediate area of usage. The same study showed a threefold increase in concentration of the chemical in the blubber of Beluga whales. According to a fact sheet issued by the Pesticide Action Network of Europe, “Endosulfan is now found extensively…in remote ecosystems such as Arctic, Antarctic, Great Lakes, Canadian Rockies, Costa Rican rainforests, Alps and Himalayas.”

Hariharan disputes the findings.

“Firstly, there are significant scientific gaps (in endosulfan research). I can point you to other studies that show that the half-life of endosulfan in tropical climates like India is far shorter,” he said. “There is only one Canadian study that shows a half-life greater than 180 days and it cannot be applied to India given the vastly different climate. We need data that is representative of the region, but parties like the EU tend to cherry pick data.”

Among the research papers he points to is a 1997 study carried out in Haryana and published in the peer-reviewed Pesticide Journal, which establishes endosulfan’s half-life in soil at 39-42 days.

Organizations such as ISC and the Crop Care Federation of India (an association of pesticide manufacturers) say any research carried out by the EU and others like it would be biased. “Most reports have an agenda,” said Anil J. Kakkar, director of the Indian Crop Care Federation and vice-president (marketing) at Excel Crop Care Ltd, one of the three companies in India that manufacture the active ingredient of endosulfan. “Endosulfan is now off patent and brings in far lower margins. So they want to push substitutes which offer greater premiums.”

The Indian representatives at the Stockholm Convention are in discussions with various ministries, including agriculture, health and chemicals, to finalize the stance for the April meeting. Rajiv Gauba, joint secretary in the ministry of environment and forests, who represents India at the convention, says he cannot comment on what the country’s position is going to be unless the discussions are completed. The agriculture ministry didn’t respond to queries from Mint.

In a 22 February Parliament session, though, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar argued that farmers in several states had been using endosulfan with good results and that the four expert committees set up since 1991 had all recommended its continued use. He said the problems in Kerala were due to improper usage.

Hariharan of ISC said there are no viable alternatives to endosulfan in a country like India. “The convention initially claimed that there were nearly 100 alternatives. But after screening, only six were found to have properties such as being pollinator-friendly and non-toxic,” he said. “Then there is the question of affordability, because these are all patented products, unlike endosulfan.”

Government indecision stems from the lack of scientific consensus. Shetty said there is no need for further evidence.

“It is difficult to pinpoint the long-term impact of any chemical. Even if endosulfan is not yet a proven carcinogenic, there may multiple other health effects that may go undetected because nobody has concertedly researched usage in India,” he said. “Mild symptoms like headache will go unreported, while cases of acute poisoning need an India-wide study. When 70 countries have already banned it, we can afford to follow suit.”

There have been isolated reports of ill effects from cotton farmers in Maharashtra in the 1980s and cashewnut plantations in Orissa in the 1990s as well as parts of Tamil Nadu, Assam, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, pointing to the toxic effects of endosulfan.

“The reason Kerala shot into prominence was because the impact was so widespread. About 10,000 people over 4,500 hectares were affected,” said C. Jayakumar, a sociologist from Kerala who has been studying the issue in Kasargod since 1999. The improper use of pesticides is another point of debate in the row. “India did not have the ultra low-volume formulation suitable for aerial spraying (in Kasargod),” Chakravarthy of UAS said. “Instead, the formulation meant for knapsack sprayers and hydraulic sprayers was used, which had a higher concentration of the chemical. Humans were obviously going to be affected badly.”

Kasargod has a hilly terrain with numerous water bodies that weren’t covered up during the spraying, leading to the water getting contaminated. The spraying was carried out for more than a decade without checking build-up in the soil or being rotated with other chemicals.

“These are compounds a company manufactures under controlled conditions with handlers wearing gloves, etc.,” he said. “Then the product is suddenly passed on to illiterate end users without any instructions.”

Shetty, a proponent of pesticide stewardship—or its proper, controlled use—points out that developed countries use 80% of all pesticides and yet have the fewest instances of mortality and disease related to the chemicals. He belongs to the group that wants manufacturers to educate farmers on proper use.

“In 2000, the manufacturers hadn’t suggested that a different formulation was needed for aerial spraying. Only now, in retrospect, has the issue come up,” Jayakumar said.

Hariharan takes a different view.

“It is the regulator who decides pesticide usage. Manufacturers cannot be held fully liable. Also, even if the proper guidelines weren’t followed, does it justify a complete ban?”


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Farmers from Gulbarga disagree with the ban in Karnataka

Farmers from Gulbarga on Wednesday filed a miscellaneous petition in the high court to implead them in a petition filed by Endosulfan Manufacturers’ and Formulators’ Welfare Association (EMFWA) challenging the endosulfan ban imposed by the government.

The farmers claimed that they did not have any harmful effect after using the pesticide for the past two to three years. “The ban is against the expert committee report formed by the government to study the effects of endosulfan use in 2004. The ban affects the livelihood of about 5,000 people who are employed in the industry,” said the petitioners’ lawyer.

The government had banned endosulfan on February 19, 2010 on the basis of disability and diseases caused by the pesticide in several villages of Dakshina Kannada District.


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Farmers Know Best

The typical Indian farmer is a small and marginal farmer with land holdings between 1 and 5 hectares. For farmers like these, agriculture is barely a business—at least, not a profitable one. Most of these farmers are involved in sustenance farming and toil for a hand-to-mouth existence. They can afford to pay very little for crop-protection and cannot bear losses caused by sub-standard, ineffective products. That is why they prefer Endosulfan, which is extremely affordable, effective and can be used on a large variety of crops.

Since farmers spend their days on the fields, they are fully aware of the dangers and benefits of all their farm inputs. They recognise the services provided by pollinators like honeybees as well as beneficial insects like ladybird beetle that devour on pests that harm crops. Since these insects appear at the same time as pests, they have to be dealt with differently. Endosulfan is the only in-use pesticide that is soft on pollinators and beneficial insects. Since they are unharmed with the use of Endosulfan and can continue regulating harmful pests, still lesser pesticide can be used. This bodes well for Indian farmers that are frugal with pesticide use.

So, when we decide that Endosulfan is bad for farmers, we take away their right to choose. We disregard their experience of Endosulfan use and impose our prejudices on their operating economies. Unfortunately, most of our farmers are distant from popular media and are unaware of the fate befalling them. It is, therefore, up to us—folks like you and me to direct their voices to where it will matter most—and save them from heading to the brink of survival.


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EU Funds ENGOs to Turn Indians against Endosulfan

To create gradual public dissent for Endosulfan, the EU has pulled many Indian environmental NGOs (ENGOs) on its side in addition to prominent International ENGOs like PAN, EJF (Environment Justice Foundation) and I-PEN (International POP’s Elimination Network). Information obtained though the RTI Act from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India shows that between 2000 and 2007, CSE received foreign funds to the tune of Rs 53 crore. A majority of this donation came from the EU. The EU ambassador to India confirmed that in the same period, a steady annual contribution was made by the EU to CSE to implement a project on ‘Policy Research and Awareness Creation in the Field of Environmental Health Interface and Development of an Alternative Pollution Monitoring System’ from 2000 to 2006.


The verbatim objective of the CSE program was to ‘sensitise the public to the linkages between environmental degradation and health’; ‘develop policy strategies in the field of environmental health’ and ‘catalyse the formation of pressure groups.’ One can easily estimate the real intent behind these objectives:


  • Sensitise the public to the linkages between environmental degradation and health: Disseminate misguided information about Endosulfan and its effects on people and environment, thereby stirring a ‘people-driven’ movement against the pesticide. Government committees that have rubbished Endosulfan links to health problems in Kerala have been severely criticised even without scientific critiques.


  • Develop policy strategies in the field of environmental health: Harness the opinion of the masses to bring about a policy change in matters that guide manufacturing and use of the concerned chemical; thus helping EU achieve its goal at ground-zero (India being Endosulfan’s second largest market and largest producer). India is one of the few economies against the ban. If our government gives in, the EU agenda will succeed.


  • Catalyse the formation of pressure groups: Use misguided mass opinion to generate pressure such that the government accedes to a ban, despite the absence of any scientific evidence to support the claims. This has already worked in procuring compensation for the alleged ‘victims.’


This case reveals how inconspicuously funded activism prospers in India. Such NGOs care little about the effects of Endosulfan or the people they claim are affected by it. If they were, they would demand studies that explore the reason for their ailments, instead of studies that link Endosulfan to them. How else could one account for their unscientific vendetta against a chemical that has been safely used the world over for more than 55 years? They would rather continue lying to the Indian public than disappoint their European benefactors.


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Why only Kerala?

Endosulfan is widely used in quantities exceeding 1,000 KL in the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. Kerala has traditionally used very little Endosulfan, in comparison only a reported 550 litres. Yet, no health incidences have been reported in the former listed regions. Even in Kerala, the Plantation Corporation of Kerala (PCK) stopped aerial-spraying way back in 2000. When it was practiced, it was done one to two times a year by spraying the equivalent of 300 ml—just about a glassful of the pesticide per acre.

  • In an article titled, ‘Proxy Battle over Endosulfan,’ Sharad Joshi, founder of Shetkari Sanghatana and former Rajya Sabha MP wrote, “in the incidents reported from certain villages in Kasargod district, no conclusive evidence has been produced to show that the diseases were linked to Endosulfan and nothing else. 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.”

Common sense says that if you wanted to conduct a study on the effects on Endosulfan, you would conduct it in a region which is known to use substantial quantities of the pesticide as opposed to one that barely uses it. Did Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) know about the prevalence of handi-godu disease in the region when they planned to announce that the local disorders are caused by Endosulfan? If yes, what was their motive?

  • According to an article, ‘Kerala’s Pesticide Puzzle,’ that appeared in Indian Express, Mumbai and New Delhi editions on January 30, 2011, “Jagadeesh, 40, from a village under the Enmakaje panchayat, is an Endosulfan victim in government records – diagnosed with mental retardation and epilepsy. He was born in 1970, at least 10 years before the first spraying of Endosulfan and even before the trial run began in 1977–78. That he wasn’t enrolled in primary school at the age of six indicates his congenital problems preceded the spraying. His four younger siblings are all married with children who are in good health. Jagadeesh was first taken for treatment only 15 years ago, when the Endosulfan issue erupted.”

This note reveals much about the claimed role of Endosulfan in the suffering of the locals. As long as there will be a belief that Endosulfan is the cause of the disorders in Kasargod, no number of government studies clearing Endosulfan will convince the masses. The government must look into handi godu disorder itself—find its root cause, treat it and make relevant efforts to restrict its spread since it is believed to be genetic. This will not only benefit those suffering, but also vindicate a highly beneficial generic pesticide that has been a boon for Indian agriculture.

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Kerala’s fears on Endosulfan baseless: Sharad Joshi

Shetkari Sanghatana founder-president Sharad Joshi has said that Kerala’s fears on pesticide Endosulfan is baseless and a ban on its use will mean fewer farmers going for cultivation of pulses.

A final decision on Endosulfan is likely at the Stockholm Convention scheduled next month. “While the Centre is firm on its decision of not banning the pesticide, the Kerala government is trying to sabotage this,” Joshi said, adding that the Centre should ensure that no other state followed Kerala’s stand.

He said Endosulfan was earlier being manufactured by European companies, but Indian companies have started manufacturing it while the European companies began production of its costlier alternatives. “By banning Endosulfan, the EU wants to push its costlier products in India, which would be a heavy burden on farmers.”

Endosulfan has been blamed for incidents of congenital abnormalities, cancer and so on, which is why Kerala issued the notification. Joshi countered the claims, citing a medical study that said the abnormalities and deformities had been a result of continuous in-breeding among certain tribes. He said the Centre had formed four committees under the Ministries of Agriculture, Health, Environment and an AIIMS doctor and all of them had recommended the use of Endosulfan.

Joshi said India had been using this pesticide since 1971 and now manufactured around 12 million litres of Endosulfan a year, worth Rs. 4,500 crore. This amounted to 70 per cent of Endosulfan production in the world and India even exports it to South America. In India, the state had the highest use of the pesticide at 22-23 per cent followed by Madhya Pradesh (20-22 per cent), Gujarat (25-26 per cent) and Punjab (12-13 per cent). “Strangely, Kerala, which uses 0.8 per cent of Endosulfan, has issued a notification that renders sale of pesticides illegal, unless supported by a prescription from an appropriate agricultural officer.”

Asked about alternatives for Endosulfan, he said, “Indoxacarb, Imidacloprid and Acetamiprid are three alternatives. However, Ensdosulfan is used widely because, unlike its alternatives, it goes soft on pollinators. Also, it is four times cheaper; Endosulfan is Rs 250-260/litre as against the alternatives that range between Rs 900-3,000/litre.”

Source: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/keralas-fears-on-endosulfan-baseless-sharad-joshi/757685/

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Endosulfan – Recommendations of Expert Committee

Government constituted Expert Committee under the chairmanship of Dr. C.D. Mayee to evaluate whether there is any link between Endosulfan and alleaged health effects.

Recommendations of the Expert Committee
1. There is no link established between use of Endosulfan in PCK plantations and health problems reported in Padre village.

2. Aerial spraying of pesticides may be allowed in case of national exigencies after permission of the Central Insecticides Board.

3. The application of all pesticides including Endosulfan is to be done adhering to regulatory stipulations in force from time to time.

4. The pesticides manufacturers should take necessary steps to promote & educate sellers & users to ensure correct and safe use of all pesticides.

5 Since India has adequate pre-registration data requirement and post registration review processes concerning use of pesticides, it is recommended that science based responses be made available to all stake holders and general public by registration authorities. There is often a huge gap between perception of the risk and actual scientific risk assessment. This gap is to be filled by proper and timely propagation of knowledge & information.

6 It is also recommended to conduct a comprehensive, well designed & detailed health & epidemiological study in the entire cashew plantation areas of Kerala to ascertain the incidences of diseases in Padre vis-a vis other relevant locations in Kerala State to investigate and if possible pin-point the probable factor that are responsible for alleged health problems at Padre.

7 Use of Endosulfan is not clearly linked to the alleged health problems in Kasargod district of Kerala. However, considering the apprehensions in the minds of the public in Kerala, the Committee recommends that it would be better if use of Endosulfan is kept on held in Kerala.

8 Finally, after considering all above factors and available reports, it is recommended that use of Endosulfan be continued as per provisions of Insecticides Act, 1968.

( S.R. Gupta) (Jyothi Lal)
Deputy Director General (PFA) Director, Agriculture, Kerala State
Member Member

(P.N. Maji) (R.B.L. Bhaskar)
Addl. Industrial Adviser Joint Director (Bio)
Member Secretary

( C.D Mayee)
Agriculture Commissioner

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