24 September, 2020

Blog

The European Union Approves The Herbicide Glyphosate By Another Five Years

By Chandre Dharmawardana

Dr. Chandre Dharmawardana

After deliberations that lasted almost a month, and months of preliminary review at various levels, the European Union countries have votes over-overwhelmingly to extend the use of the controversial herbicide Glyphosate. Monsanto and many other agro-chemical companies sell the product since the original Monsanto patent expired decades ago. It has been used in Sri Lanka in significant amounts since 2000 and banned in 2015. 

Various formulations of glyphosate have been used in European countries for over four decades without any substantiated cases of ill health. Nevertheless, public fear of environmental contamination and ill-effects on health have been stridently voiced against this herbicide, mainly because of its essential role in the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops. The public fears GM foods were called to question even as recently as July 4th 2016 by some 100 Nobelist scientists writing to the Washington Post. They  endorsed GM, while asking “Green” militants and NGOs  to not to spread fake news.

On the other hand, a petition with 1.3 million signatures, and e-mail initiatives (e.g., by “change.org” with some 292,000 signatures) had been delivered to the European parliament months before the deliberations. Many “green” NGOs and political parties had submitted their opposition to glyphosate. However, the main-stream scientific opinion has been strongly in favour of the continued use of glyphosate as one of the safest available herbicides. The regulatory bodies like the WHO and the FAO support the continued use of glyphosate formulations in industrial agriculture, and explained that the public has misunderstood the reclassification of glyphosate as a class-II carcinogen. This implies no health risk but the recognition of a possible hazard.

Normally, the decisions regarding matters like herbicides are made by a technical committee on agriculture appointed by the EU. However, from time to time, policies are set by the European parliament which may take decisions that bind the expert committees. Many of the early votes of the EU in fact supported a ban on the herbicide when the votes were taken, but several key countries stayed non-committal and abstained  from the vote. The German chancellor Angela Merkel is herself a chemist by training. When the last round of voting came about, her agriculture minister Christian Schmidt had taken the decision that abstaining is not a valid policy. Germany supported the extension of the use of glyphosate by five more years. The clear German position  influence other states to also say “Ja”, although France and Greece continued with a “Non”. The experts of the European union had of course been in favour of the continued licensing of the herbicide. Now that the political masters have given approval, the Greens and others foes of GM crops will have to wait for another five years to begin their rounds of collecting signatures, sending out petitions, and creating websites and emotional internet documents against the herbicide, claiming links between agri-business, government and “big science”.

Already, Martin Hausling, the Green-party representative in Brussels has declared this to be a “true scandal”, even while German political parties are trying to build a broad coalition under Merkel for a new government. The “green” politicians in Europe claim that glyphosate may cause cancer, and that although this is not proven, it should be banned on the basis of what is often called the  “precautionary principle”. The farmer trade unions and agriculturists strongly oppose any ban on glyphosate as the production of so-called “organic agriculture” cannot meet beyond 1% of the needed food supply. Most European governments have agriculture ministers who accept this position, while also simultaneously having “minsters of the environment” who claim to be in agreement with the majority of the public who don’t want “chemicals” in their food, while living in a stew of automobile pollution and electronic gadgets containing cadmium, nickel, lead, mercury etc. In practice, for most governments, the agriculture mister’s view prevails over that of the minster of environment.

In Sri Lanka, the situation has been more complex, or truly voodoo, to say the least. The decision to ban gypohosate was taken in the wake of the 2015 presidential elections, at the instigation of Ven. Ratana and his followers in the JHU who backed Mr. Sirisena’s candidacy. Ven. Ratana’s had been initially influenced by the claim that God Natha communicated the cause of CKDu through a medium. The reason for banning is not the possibility that glyphosate (if ingested in extremely large quantities) could cause cancer, but the claim that it has actually triggered an epidemic of chronic kidney disease (known as CKDu) among paddy farmers in the dry zone. However, the analysis of blood, urine and other bio-samples of kidney patients have not detected any glyphosate in 97% of the patients. The main-stream view of scientists and experts on kidney diseases is that farmers who drink stagnant well water possibly containing hard water and fluoride may be causing the disease. A newspaper article (Daily News, 9-March 2017) by Dr. Tilak Abeysekera, a leading Nephrologist reviews the many possible causes. CKDu has not appeared among other users of agrochemicals or even among paddy farmers in other parts of the country. Many other articles on the topic may be consulted here.

Given that glyphosate seems to have nothing to do with CKDu, and given that no GM crops are cultivated in Sri Lanka giving no tangible basis for opposition to GM, there is no reason for Sri Lanka to rush to ban the herbicide. The effect of the ban, taking its toll over the last two years has been catastrophic on all agricultural sectors. The continuing drought that came in about the same time has made matters worse. A vast network for smuggling in black-market glyphosate as well as dangerous illegal alternatives has grown to satisfy some of pent up the demand. The appeals of the leaders of the badly-hit tea industry could not be ignored by the agriculture minster who appointed a commission. The report of the commission, based on views of experts as well as those opposed to glyphosate has been handed over to the President and to the Prime minster.

However, unlike in the EU where the processes, however contentious, end in a decision, things don’t happen so easily in Sri Lanka where we have a Kafka’s castle. Matters like herbicides and the fate of agriculture are of no importance for a government whose energies are trapped in avoiding elections, facing bond-scam investigations, re-writing constitutions to please its political backers, and trying to unleash arrests of major political opponents mainly as a bid to stay in power. Everything is “Aes Bandum” or acts of “political illusion”. Surely, how many major commission reports have been presented to the government, and how many have been acted on?  The government is like an inept juggler who is juggling with swords and knows that one of them is about to fall on him any time soon. So, can we expect it to worry about a mere herbicide.

Perhaps if this  government gets to know that the young doctor who was the main proponent of the claim that glyphosate causes CKDu  was also a speaker at the recent Anuradhapura rally of the Joint Opposition, then it might act!  Commission money and political vengeance, rather than science and rational considerations  may be the few things that make our successive governments to act.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 1
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 1
    1

    This ban is due to political reasons. Those who fought to get this ban enforced are working for the fall of the present Government. This young doctor referred to in the article even contested on the UPFA ticket for general elections under Mahinda Rajapakse and lost. To compensate for his efforts Mahinda Rajapakse got him to the Rajarata University through his henchman VC even though there were many others more qualified than him for this post.

    • 0
      1

      This is a country where decisions are based on superstition and the advice of Buddhist monks. The tax on cellphone towers in the budget is said to be prompted by fears of cancer caused by cellphones. More voodoo.

  • 1
    1

    This article is misleading because the writer looks like from the camp that supports the Glyphosate Use. IT is proven that it is not glyphosate, one theory, but the additives (surfactants) are causing causing and is among the known carcinogens. Right now, A citizens’ initiative in the Whole 50 states of “USA is asking the total ban of Glyphosate because it is most widely used weed killer and it is found in water, milk and many other food sources. CT does not allow cut and paste otherwise go and search in the Global Research web site. IT explains what happened in Europe too.

    • 0
      0

      Jimmy,
      A carcinogen is something that causes cancer. The farmers are not dying of cancer but CKD.
      If you can, please tell us how many people in Europe have been proved to have died of Glyphosate poisoning?

      • 0
        0

        Old codger: Dr dhramawardane is just writing without any research data and he is not writing to research conferences or to academics. Read global research or search and see. It sys, Monsanto research say that kidney failure is FIVe times high because of Glyphosate contamination. Just do not be dumd. Punch the word kidney failure come glyphosate and search. YOu get so many articles. I am sorry to say I can not understand a senile doctorate is this dumb.

  • 4
    1

    From time to time people like Chandre come out of their luxury situations and make comments like this and then hide.Please pay your bond to Sri Jayawardanapura University and then talk.This payment has been due since the early 1970 period.

    • 0
      0

      As an old student of Prof. Dharmawardana I would like to ask Asoka W what this bond is, that he is referring to? Dr. Dharmawardana was not sent abroad by Vidyodaya for training etc., as far as I know. He certainly had no bond with any University. He worked here while also holding a position with the University of Paris by special arangement put in place when Prof. Walpola Rahula was the VC. , and every year he used to spend a part of the acdemic year at the French University and in Canada. He probably never fully joined the university or some such thing. If you read the small green book issued to all students in1974 that I still have as a souvenier you can get the details about his dual status. He left after he became VC and had to meet with opposition to changes that he attempted to implement (e.g., making English compulsory as a course unit even for arts students), and also because he could not maintain the dual arrangement.

    • 0
      0

      Did not know he owes money to SJPU. Knew that he did not do any good to the university either. He was a misfit to the country and good that he left the university in 1974 for good. Wonder why he(being a theoretical chemist) is so fond of Glyphosate; probably he must be on the payroll of big companies.

  • 0
    0

    EU parliament knows that Glyphosate is a carcinogen. but, it cannot right away ban it because the Grass weed killer is leading to so many businesses. One reason is its use on GMO crops. That is why it is allowed ONLY FOR FIVE YEARS. If not why they did not allow it without any time limitations. Monsanto Is very rich and filthy rich. If the concern was only the use one GMP crops they should have presented the research data. Why Monsanto was silent when it was allowed only for FIVE years.

  • 0
    0

    I see some snide comments by an Asoka W suggesting that Sri lankans like Chandre D living abroad should not make commrnts about SL maters?
    A lot of people who write here or coment, frm Lucksiri to JimSofty who said that he feeds his cows Urea (!) Live outside Sri Lanka. The government has from time to time spent large sums of money and invited foreign experts to come and write reports giving recommrndations about CKDU. If you look at some of those reports, you find that they refer to the scientific writings of people like Dr. Dharmawardana, or the work of Peradeniya Scientists, or people like Dr. Wimalaswansa, Dr. Sanath G! living in USA etc.
    This you can see from the last report by a group of Dutch experts.
    So we should w elcome the voluntorily given free advice instead of getting the same advice based in the views of the same people via so called foreign experts by paying for it.

    • 0
      0

      Feeding Urea to Cattle is not something foreign. I have seen farmers in Sri lanka do that. Tha is how I learned it. check the web.It is don’t to enrich the feed with nitrogen.

  • 0
    0

    Read ehjournal.biobiomedical.com. It gives examples from Latin america from so many countries the prevalence of kidney diseases. It states Sri lanka too.

  • 0
    0

    Scientists, pseudo scientists and politically oriented scientists may argue for ever. If one look at all te data intelligently, it is obvious that cadmium from cheap TSP imported to Sri Lanka and high levels of fluoride in NCP are the causes of CKDU. WE are in the wrong track destroying our agricultural economy due to ill advisors of politically oriented people looking for popularity, votes and positions by misguiding te rulers of te country. Unfortunate nation!!

  • 0
    0

    Upali
    SL does not use low quality TPS. Take NewŹealand which uses Nauru TPS which has about 35 times more Cd than what we use in SLanka. Ven. Ratana made a big fuss and took samples to Singspore and the amounts of impurities were much less than those in NZ fertilizers or those used in Europe importrd from Morocco. There are no chronic illnesses in NZ or in EU as compared to SL.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.