Thursday, February 24, 2011

PAN Asia Pacific launches Rice Action campaign

Rice, the staple food of three billion people around the world, is at risk. Chemical-intensive farming practices have wreaked havoc on rice cultivation, particularly in Asia. 

Pesticide Action Network Asia/Pacific, with partners in 15 Asian countries, has launched Collective Rice Action, a campaign that will mobilize farmers, consumers and the media across Asia between January and March this year. Thousands of people will participate to celebrate and protect the strong tradition of rice cultivation around Asia. 

Industrial agriculture has resulted in poisoning people and rice fields with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, degraded soil, water and ecosystems — undermining centuries of farmer-led innovation and wisdom in rice cultivation. Traditional rice varieties, with their natural resilience and adaptation to local climates, soils and pest conditions, are being replaced en masse by hybrid varieties and genetically engineered (GE) rice. GE rice strains — with appealing names like Liberty Link and Golden Rice — pose environmental and, possibly, human health risks, and are certain to contaminate non-GE rice fields.

The Green Revolution in Asia introduced “high yielding varieties” of rice, which require large doses of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
Rice consumers are put at serious risk from the use of hazardous pesticides in rice cultivation and the genetic engineering of rice seeds; while small-scale rice farming communities are among the poorest sectors in the world due to the impacts of imperialist globalization and corporate control over agriculture” says Sarojeni Rengam of PAN Asia Pacific.
This campaign to restore control of agriculture to farmers is part of PAN’s international  focus on food democracy the human right to safe, nutritious food that has been produced under fair and just conditions. In the month ahead we'll keep you updated about the Collective Rice Action campaign in Asia. 

Costa Rica With Increased Use of Pesticides In The World

A group of environmentalists have deployed actions against the use of pesticides in Costa Rica, with publicity events in the local agricultural (famers) markets in Zaporta and Hatillo, held this Sunday. According to studies by the Regional de Estudios en Sustancias Tóxicas (IRET) - Institute for Studies on Toxic Substances, shows that the use of agrochemicals has increased without increasing the agricultural areas. In other words, more chemicals in the same meal, said Fabrián Pacheco and Gabriela Cob, spokespersons for the environmentalists.

The two indicated that the amount of imported pesticides has increased by 340% in the last 30 years. In total, the country imported over 184.817 tonnes of pesticide from 1977 to 2006. All this went to the fields where our food is grown, they said. They said therefore they have developed the campaign "PAREN DE FUMIGAR" (STOP Spraying), which provides information for both producers and consumers to educate, raise awareness and ultimately reduce the levels of pesticides in our food. Sunday's action was accompanied by posters, percussion and even elements of impact as a colourful model of a sprayer airplane. This is one of several forms of activities to develop this campaign and will be visiting various agricultural fairs in the country.

Every Saturday and Sunday agricultural fairs are held in all communities across Costa Rica, as producers bring their crops directly to the public. In San José a permanent agricultural market is held every day, in the wee hours of the morning for local vendors to buy directly from the producers. Many consumers prefer the agricultural fairs to the supermarkets to buy their fruits and vegetables, one for the lower price and second for the freshness of the product. According to Estado de la Nación (The State of the Nation) report in 2009, Costa Rica imported over 300 tons of methyl bromide formulations - a substance regulated by the Montreal Protocol which contributes to the destruction of the ozone layer of the earth. Also imported were two highly toxic substances regulated by the Rotterdam Convention.

The crop with greater use of pesticides is the melon, followed by ornamental plants, tomatoes, potatoes, pineapple and sugar cane. The pineapple still tops the list of environmental complaints in the country. In response, the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganaderia (MAG) published a manual of good practice obligatory for pineapple producers.

What can we do as consumers?

- Although washing does not eliminate from food 100% of the poison applied it is a good practice

- Demand organic food or foods with low levels of pesticide use

- Attend fairs and markets of products without poison (like in Aranjuez, San Cayetano and Escazú, for example).

- Start a home garden. Small scale organic farming has proved very efficient

- Do not be so demanding on the appearance of products. The "perfect" vegetable is often the most fumigated.

- Demand that the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health ban red label pesticides and more toxic (paraquat, endosulfan, methomyl, terbufos, methamidophos, phorate, malathion, carbofuran, ethoprophos, aldicarb, chlorpyrifos and methyl bromide)

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI) the world champions of pesticide use are:

1. Costa Rica
2. Colombia
3. Holland
4. Ecuador
5. Portugal
6. France
7. Greece
8. Uruguay
9. Suriname
10. Germany 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Karnataka bans use of Endosulfan

The Karnataka government on Thursday banned the use of endosulfan, an insecticide, with immediate effect.

This has been a longstanding demand of the people of Dakshina Kannada, Uttara Kannada and Udupi districts, and reports have it that lobby of manufacturers prevented the introduction of such a ban for several years. 

Briefing presspersons after the State Cabinet meeting, Minister for Higher Education V.S. Acharya said the Cabinet discussed the harmful effects of endosulfan on the health of farmers and people living in rural areas. The government will now invoke the provisions of the Insecticides Act, 1968 (a Central act) and write a letter to the Union Government about the ban. According to the provisions, the State government can write to the Centre, by virtue of which a ban can be imposed, albeit for a brief period. Minister for Energy, and Food and Civil Supplies Shobha Karandlaje, who has been spearheading a movement seeking a ban on endosulfan, said, “I am grateful to Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa and members of the Cabinet for approving the ban. It is unfortunate that the Union government is still bending to the lobby of endosulfan manufacturers. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should intervene in the matter, more so, since Union Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar has spoken in favour of the insecticide.” 

Kerala was the first State to ban endosulfan, on October 31, 2006.According to the Cabinet note, aerial spraying of the insecticide has resulted in several health problems such as children developing physical deformities and mental retardation, skin cancer, epilepsy, etc. Farmers are also complaining about the death of cattle for no apparent reason, and there have also been reports of fish kills.Studies on animals have shown that long-term exposure to low levels of endosulfan affects the kidneys, liver and foetuses. 

Endosulfan is primarily used during certain periods of the year. With the ban, the State can prevent its use for a period not exceeding 60 days. Aerial spraying of endosulfan was undertaken every year (from 1983) by the Karnataka Cashew Development Board in many villages in Puttur, Belthangady and Bantwal taluks in Dakshina Kannada. Over 60 countries have banned the use of this deadly pesticide after they found viable alternatives. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Syngenta comes under fire in Burkina Faso

Syngenta's Gramoxone is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world (AFP)
by Pierre-Francois Besson, Feb 9, 2011

A herbicide developed by Swiss firm Syngenta, Gramoxone (paraquat), is being blamed for health problems in Burkina Faso.

The West African country is calling for the product to be placed on the Rotterdam Convention list of extremely dangerous substances. A UN treaty, the convention establishes guidelines for the use of hazardous chemicals and pesticides with a view to protecting human and environmental health.

A study conducted in June-July 2010 by the Burkina Faso authorities in collaboration with local representatives of the Rotterdam Convention, revealed the herbicide had provoked a series of health problems. These included skin lesions, fever, respiratory and vision problems if inhaled, eye burns and vision problems after contact with eyes, abdominal pain, and vomiting and paralysis following ingestion.
The study surveyed 650 farmers in three regions of Burkina Faso. Researchers identified 296 cases of poisoning linked to the application of pesticides. In 20 per cent of cases, paraquat, the active substance in Gramoxone, was deemed to be the cause.  Researchers noted that farmers surveyed often do not have access to materials and finances, or the know-how, necessary for the safe use of such products. In light of its impact, researchers are demanding paraquat be included on the list of banned substances in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention.The Burkina Faso government has officially transferred the request to the secretariat of the convention.

Not before 2013
A committee of scientific experts is due to examine the case at the end of March. If the committee upholds the survey findings, the 2013 Conference of Parties to the convention (the conference of June 2011 is too early) will decide whether or not to include paraquat in Annex III.
Both the Burkina Faso agriculture minister and the scientific coordinator of the study, Adama Toé, declined to comment when contacted by In Rome, the secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention explained that the request for a pesticide formulation to be included in the list of extremely dangerous substances under Annex III is the first by a developing country since 2001.
A spokesman for the Bern Declaration, a Swiss non-government organisation which has long campaigned against the use of paraquat, François Meienberg, refused to be drawn on the possible outcome of the application by the Burkina Faso government.
But Meienberg noted that a further nine Sahel countries are also examining the possibility of banning the substance. A further indication that the product, already banned in several countries including Switzerland, raises cause for concern.

The mechanism
Technically, the 40 dangerous products included in Annex III are not banned. The focus is on information and collaboration, with the aim of improving transparency around imported and exported products. Their inclusion on the list means that a country must publically announce its intention to import the products ("Prior Informed Consent"). A kind of preventative approach.
Meienberg sees an opportunity for developing countries which have not always had the means to collect the detailed information required to make a case or take informed decisions.
Inscription in Annex III will lead to several countries stopping the importation of paraquat, predicts the Bern Declaration spokesman, based on his knowledge of past instances of substances being included on the list. Food labels which exclude the use of products listed in Annex III will also follow suit.

Product of the future?
From its Basel-based headquarters Syngenta declined to return calls for comment from However the company presents a detailed defence of paraquat on its official website, including links to pages providing information on the correct use of the product.
Sygenta notes that “paraquat is and will continue to be vital in responding to growing demands for food, fibres and fuels produced by agriculture”. The Swiss firm maintains that it has information which demonstrates paraquat is safe for users, consumers and the environment.
The company also notes that it “engages in the promotion of the safe use of all its products, including paraquat, in the form of training programs and services. In 2007, the programs reached 3.4 million farmers across the world.” Evidently the battle surrounding the 50-year-old herbicide is far from over.

Pierre-Francois Besson,
(Adapted from French by Sophie Douez)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

India resists efforts to ban pesticide

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 7, 2011; 10:43 PM 

Sujata Sundaran (in blue) is 27, but her legs stopped growing at 6. Thousands of people have been disabled permanently because of sustained use of ENdosulfan. Many Indians are part of an international campaign to ban the manufacture and use of the controversial chemical, but their biggest adversary is the Indian government which has been blocking the ban. (Rama Lakshmi - Washington Post)

Abdul Hameed, 42, holds his son Suhel (16) is disabled and rapidly losing eyesight. Thousands of people have been disabled permanently because of sustained use of ENdosulfan. Many Indians are part of an international campaign to ban the manufacture and use of the controversial chemical, but their biggest adversary is the Indian government which has been blocking the ban. India is the world's largest producer, user and exporter of the low-cost pesticide. (Rama Lakshmi - Washington Post)

Thotan Jekan, 37 sprays controversial pesticide Endosulfan on the cotton and vegetable crop in his village. (Rama Lakshmi - Washington Post) 

MUDALAPARA, INDIA - When she was a child, a helicopter would buzz over Sujata Sundaran's village twice a year, spraying pesticide over the lush trees on cashew farms nearby."It was like snowflakes falling from the sky. The children would run out to look at the helicopter," she recalled, sitting in her mud hut. "At that time, we did not know it would destroy our lives." 

Sundaran, 27, said her legs stopped growing when she was about 6 years old, and her mother carries her around like a baby. Sundaran and thousands of other villagers here in the southern state of Kerala say that over the years use of a pesticide called Endosulfan left them disabled.The villagers helped force a state ban on the pesticide in 2004 and now have joined an international campaign that could result in a global ban. 

But the villagers have come up against a powerful opponent: the Indian government. India is the world's largest producer, exporter and user of the low-cost pesticide, which farmers across the rest of the country continue to use on tea, cotton, rice and other crops. Officials say a ban would jeopardize the country's food security at a time of rising demand and leave millions of farmers without an affordable alternative. 

"There are no reports of negative health impact or crop damage because of Endosulfan in any other part of India. If any fresh input comes to us, we will consider it," said Arun Yadav, the deputy minister for agriculture. "Kerala is the only place that had health concerns."The three companies that produce Endosulfan in India, including one that is partly government-owned, say European competitors are pushing for the ban. 

"The demand for banning Endosulfan in India is motivated by the vested interest of European pesticide-makers, who are interested in promoting their new patented products," Pradeep Dave, president of the Pesticides Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India, said at a news conference in December.

Last week in Mumbai, Anil Kakkar, director of the Crop Care Federation of India, which works with the agrochemical industry, said a ban would "result in a replacement of Endosulfan by alternatives which are 10 times more expensive and will be damaging to the farm ecosystem, as most of these are known to be harmful to pollinators such as honeybees." The European Union, citing health concerns, has refused to import Indian tea if growers use Endosulfan. 

Doctors in the Kasaragod district of Kerala say the aerial spraying of Endosulfan over cashew farms between 1979 and 2000 has caused more than 550 deaths and serious health problems in more than 6,000 people. Three years ago, the Kerala state pollution control board reported alarming levels of chemical residue in human blood samples, soil and water in the area.