Millennium Post

Skewed priorities

Continuing use of high quantities of glyphosate in agriculture world-over despite known medical risks is a clear indication of the manipulation of scientific truth for profit

Skewed priorities

The common citizens often do not have access to real healthy food in the market as they are contaminated with residual herbicides like glyphosate and other residual pesticides and hormones. Among all of them, glyphosate sold by Bayer as Roundup is the world's most widely used agrochemical globally with 9.4 million MT already sprayed. After the introduction of GM Roundup Ready crops in 1996, which were engineered to tolerate Roundup herbicide, the use of glyphosate has increased manifold. In India, farmers spray glyphosate in harvested fields and burn the residue to make the fields ready for the next planting of paddy as manual weeding is expensive. Glyphosate does the job quickly. It is a total weedicide and kills grasses and hardy plants that have deep roots as it enters the leaves and goes to the roots through the stem. It acts by blocking photosynthesis. A few hours of bright sunshine after spraying is adequate to kill a plant in about a week. Other weedicides are not systemic. It is also used to remove the grass before construction of housing/industrial complex resulting in high residues in food and damage to the soil ecosystem. The glyphosate was thought to be completely safe for many years as it works by inhibiting an enzyme pathway behind plant growth, which does not exist in humans.

Numerous regulatory agencies including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), all over the world have practically denied the possibility of any health hazard due to glyphosate. Numerous reports have covered the internal company documents showing how Monsanto's influence over the EPA succeeded in suppressing health concerns. Last year courts in the US ordered Monsanto to pay damages of up to USD 2bn (£1.5bn) to individuals with cancer and faces many more lawsuits. In 2015, the World Health Organization's cancer agency, the IARC, declared that it was "probably carcinogenic to humans".

Researchers at ADAS in 2014 based on a study by an agricultural and environmental consultancy in the UK concluded: "the loss of glyphosate would cause very severe impacts on UK agriculture and the environment with a 20 per cent fall in wheat and rapeseed production and a 25 per cent increase in greenhouse gas emissions if glyphosate was banned." The ADAS research was used by the NFU in lobbying against an EU ban in 2017 when the renewal of the licence for glyphosate was being considered. Bayer said farmers around the globe rely on glyphosate to provide enough food for the world's growing population. But a German transparency campaign group, Lobby Control revealed two pro-glyphosate German studies that were partly funded by Monsanto and published in 2011 and 2015 without the funding being declared and told: "This is an unacceptable form of opaque lobbying". Considering the ill-effects of glyphosate, 1.2 million citizens filed a petition calling for an EU ban but the pesticide licence was renewed for five years. However, this was far shorter than the 15 years that had been sought.

Despite its carcinogenic effect, use of the chemical has grown exponentially since, with the chemical giant Monsanto — purchased by Bayer in 2018 — dominating the market. The researchers, based on scientific evidence, have explored the dangers of Glyphosate — harmful to both human health and the environment. The Chinese army has reportedly banned all GM foods due to glyphosate residues. Epidemiological evidence supports strong temporal correlations between glyphosate usage on crops and a multitude of cancers that are reaching epidemic proportions, including breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, thyroid cancer, liver cancer, bladder cancer and myeloid leukaemia.

US regulators set one 'safe' level for all of us but they ignore the compounding effects of our daily exposures to combined pesticides and other industrial chemicals. They did not consider the higher risks at different times in our lives and different conditions: a developing fetus, for instance, is particularly vulnerable to toxic exposures, as are children and the immunocompromised. New research also shows that chemicals called "endocrine disruptors" can increase the risk of cancers, learning disabilities, birth defects, obesity, diabetes and reproductive disorders, even at incredibly small levels.

So there is clear evidence that the regulatory agencies, who are responsible for defining the safety of foods, did not recommend the actual safety limit of foods based on sound scientific evidence that would ensure absolute no harm to human health.

Last summer the EU announced plans to halve the use of pesticides by 2030 and transition at least 25 per cent of agriculture to organic. But in the US, despite ever-growing demand for organic food, the government continues to favour the profits of the pesticide industry over our health, spending billions of our taxpayer dollars to prop up pesticide-intensive farming while organic programmes and research are woefully underfunded.

In India, after planning to ban 27 pesticides, the Centre has now moved to curb the use of glyphosate, a widely-used herbicide in the country. A draft notification issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, published on July 8 said: "No person shall use glyphosate except through Pest Control Operators". The use of glyphosate has been on the rise as farmers have been increasingly relying on chemicals to tackle labour shortage, rising costs and to protect their yields from weeds. According to the industry, the government's proposed move is impractical as there are not many PCOs in the farm sector and that it may impact the sales of glyphosate and its product formulations.

While issuing this draft notification, the government did not critically appraise the full set of repercussions with glyphosate considering its ill-effect, correct dose of a chemical that would not harm human health and environment, availability of PCO in a rural area. So the Government may think of banning the chemical to ensure safe food and to protect the environment.

Therefore, scientific truth must not be manipulated simply to maximise the profit of the corporate brigade at the expense of human health and the environment. Not only glyphosate, but other agricultural chemicals are also continuously threatening human health and environmental components. There is an emergent need to seek support, knowledge and innovation to save the environment from further destruction and humanity from even extinction.

The writer is a former Senior Scientist, Central Pollution Control Board. Views expressed are personal

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