Paraquate was an excellent herbicide which was banned by a previous government mainly because farmers who went bankrupt due to government rice policies used paraquat to commit suicide! Gyphosate was the other popular herbicide banned in 2015, ensuring that the farmer and even the wealthy tea planter should commit suicide. Pethiyagoda, a long-time doyen of the tea industry has resigned, possibly in total disgust. At last, the minster of agriculture, finally sensing disaster and bowing to scientific evidence on the safety of glyphoate has presented a cabinet paper to lift the ban on glyphosate. Paraquat too should be immediately re-approved with its availability restricted to technically proficient companies who can be hired by individuals desiring to use paraquat.
As a Professor of Chemistry and University President who in a small way pioneered environmental science and food technology in the 1970s at the J’pura university, and as a supporter of scientific agriculture, I wish the Minister success in re-approving not only glyphosate, but paraquat as well.
The tea industry has been loosing some 6 billion per annum, while its multiplier effect drives the loss since 2015 close to 30 billion. Carefully crafted propaganda claiming a “Kapra Beetle” further hurt the industry. Meanwhile, the eco-pundits who got asbestos banned point to the tea monoculture and its soil, and call for closing the estates. Other eco-pundits and masters of the Toxin-Free Nation claim that paddy is ecological unsustainable, using up water and eroding the soil and push to convert the paddy fields into “natural” wet lands and marshes. Rice and flour are increasingly imported by the government, while downgrading its fertilizer subsidy schemes. Farmers are told to make their own “organic fertilizer” or buy the “bio-film” sponsored by the Presidential secretariat, but now alleged to be a scam.
The farmer has to control weeds and pests. Glyphosate was banned at the behest of the JHU politicians who abandoned Rajapaksa. Venerable Ratana and followers and God-Natha psychics had already committed the Rajapaksa government to ban Glyphosate. The herbicide has a safe track record of over four decades in all advanced farming countries, with some countries using almost a thousand times Sri Lanka’s annual usage per hectare of agrochemicals and pesticides (world-bank data). Nevertheless, large amounts of fake “research” news against these pesticides reside in the internet. Individuals selling their products claiming to “detoxify” and “rejuvenate” clients sell alternative diets to “save the earth, save the environment, and “fight agro-business”. Even the GMOA has fallen for this, and some medics are undoubtedly avid readers of questionable Internet “Gurus” like Dr. Mercola or Dr. Stephanie Seneff. The latter has spun theories “proving the toxicity of glyphosate” and sells a program that guarantees a life span of 110 years (free of glyphosate!) if you adhere to it, for a fee.
Dr. Mercola spread the claim that CKDu is caused by a glyphosate-arsenic-hardwater complex that was hypothesized by Dr. Jayasumana and authored (in a little-known pay and publish “journal”) jointly with a “medium” claiming psychic powers linking her to God Natha. This substance imagined in 2014 has not been found by any one including Dr. Jayasumana who busies himself in electioneering. But many militants of the GMOA believe that Dr. Jayasumana and associates have “proved” that CKDu in the Rajarata is caused by this imagined glyphosate complex, although the WHO team who studied CKDu patients found no evidence for glyphosate in their biopsies. Even though glyphosate is absent from the arena of the crime, they still want it banned as a “precaution” !
The force that propelled the ban is the public fear of “chemicals” that has been cleverly fanned by the local elite who ape the elite of California and Europe. The poor suffer their hunger while the rich search for “clean food”. Surely “you cannot go wrong by eating clean food”. This simple “motherhood and apple pie” statement is linked to the claim that “natural” food, unaffected by “chemicals” must be clean. This is then equated to “organic food”, while “organic food” is a movement initiated by the proto-Nazi Dr Rudolf Steiner who talked of a “spiritual and biodynamic” foundation for food. Steiner founded “Anthroposophy”, a sort of mystical hodge-podge claiming that the human race is “evolving” through the different races, with black people “at childhood”, Asians “degenerate” and white Europeans the most civilized. He envisaged a world where the population was limited to an elite with the lebensraum and resources to grow natural “biodynamic food” called “organic food”. This movement linked nicely with the misguided Eugenics movement in pre-Nazi Europe and became a successful “bio-foods” business.
In countries like Sri Lanka, the elite “internationalist” upper classes (who unconsciously equate themselves with the white masters of colonial times) and the nationalists resonate together on “organic food”. Nationalists claim that “traditional agriculture” made “Sri Lanka the granary of the East” and identify with “organic food”. Multinational food businesses with supermarket chains like “Whole Foods” capitalize on the public belief in “organic food”. That only about 2% of the world’s food supply is “organic”, and the impossibility of bridging the remaining 98% are ignored. The enormous success of insecticides like DDT in saving human lives, and in opening up previously inhabitable regions for habitation have been turned topsy-turvy by emphasizing the dangers of excessive use. The clarion call of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” was weaponized by the organic food movement, with baseless attacks on the Green Revolution which saved India from mass famine, in the nick of time. A Rudolf Steiner could lament that if not for the green revolution the world would have two billion fewer brown-skins. Although industrial fertilizers and Urea came into being in the early part of the 20th century, these activists consider it “a Western plot” to use up the excess Nitrogen explosives of the 2nd world war!
These attacks of the elitist white supremacists found strange bedfellows with the anti-establishment left in attacking giant agro-business. As many of these are based in USA and Europe, the attack on “industrial agriculture” became a part of the cold war. Fake news snippets against glyphosate are routinely posted by Russian agencies when ever Glyphosate comes for review by the EU parliament. Such news gets circulated on the internet by unsuspecting “natural foods” zealots. Even today, when Glyphosate was mentioned in the Sri Lankan parliament, Mr. Dinesh Gunawardena, a scion of Sri Lanka’s Communist party unhesitatingly linked it with American capitalism, while Ven. Ratana claimed that “a man from America” has come to Sri Lanka to agitate against the glyphosate ban imposed by Sri Lanka in 2015. Ironically, President Sirisena’s victory is also allegedly a triumph of American machinations in the murky waters of Sri Lankan politics!
Given this political backdrop, the ban on glyphosate was effectively based on pseudo-science and political propaganda. Venerable Ratana became a credulous victim of the God Natha group and campaigned that fertilizers were laced with arsenic and cadmium. They took samples abroad for analysis but did not do elementary arithmetic to estimate how the “toxins” get diluted in the soil. Yellow-robed demonstrators at the Fort railway station took the message to the country. A canard claimed that glyphosate sold to “third-world countries” are “substandard”. Prophets of doom came on television falsely claiming affiliations with the London University, UK and predicted Sri Lanka’s toxification from cadmium due to agrochemical use. Gunadasa Amarasekra, Ven. Ben Nalaka and other nationalists needed no “facts or evidence” to support banning pesticides and calling for compost instead of “fertilizers laced with toxins”. Peer-reviewed science is lame against such forces.
In reality, the fertilizer standards of Sri Lanka are at least an order of magnitude stiffer than those of most countries. Repeated analyses of the soil, water and food show that Lankan rice is quite safe to eat, and that the waters of Rajarata rivers and tanks are safe to drink. The latest study was by the J’pura University Professor Kamani Wanigasuriya and the University of North Carolina. Those who get CKDu drink water stagnating in their private wells. Laboratory mice fed such water also get kidney disease. However, in the short term it is politically hip to attack Monsanto, claim a land full of toxins, demand closing “unsustainable” tea and paddy plantations, get to import rice, tea, etc., and collect the commissions