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Pesticide ban proposal stirs up a hornets’ nestqrcode

Jun. 30, 2020

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Jun. 30, 2020

>  Following representations from industry, the farm ministry had lifted the ban on export of these 27 molecules

>  Activists, advocating a ban, argue that at least 17 of the 27 molecules did not undergo bio-safety assessment

A draft order which proposes to ban pesticides widely used in agriculture has kicked off a storm with central ministries at loggerheads with each other and advocacy groups asking for the enforcement of the ban following repeated instances of pesticide poisoning.

On last Thursday, the Association for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), a farm policy advocacy group, wrote to the secretary at the ministry of chemicals and fertilisers alleging it was "acting as a partisan front of the industry" at the cost of the "right to life" of agricultural labourers and farmers.

The bone of contention is a 2 June letter, sent by the chemicals department to the agriculture ministry, which observed that a "sudden ban" will not only render "investments (by the industry) wasteful but also cause loss of export earnings for India."

On 14 May, the agriculture ministry had issued a draft order banning manufacture and sale of 27 pesticides which are "likely to involve risk to human beings and animals."

One of reasons behind the ban was manufacturers not submitting complete data on resurgence (of pests), toxicity and bio-efficacy. The order followed recommendations of an expert committee which had submitted its report in December 2015.

Among the 27 molecules is monocrotophos, a red-triangle (extremely toxic) and widely-used pesticide, which is banned in 112 countries including the European Union, United Kingdom, Brazil ,and China. In 2017, several deaths and poisonings from use of monocrotophos were reported from Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

Malathion, labelled as a blue triangle (moderately toxic) pesticide and currently used to control trans-boundary incursion of locust swarms, also figures in the proposed list.

"There is no reason for the agriculture ministry to ban blue and green triangle pesticides which are relatively safer. The ban will impact emergency control of invasive pests like locusts and widespread use of fungicides (like thiram) for seed treatment," said Bhagirath Choudhary, founder director at the South Asia Biotechnology Center.

"The 27 generic molecules are used to manufacture more than 130 formulations. They cannot be suddenly banned," Choudhary added.

Following representations from the pesticides industry, the agriculture ministry had lifted the ban on export of these 27 molecules on 10 June. The ministry also extended the date to submit comments on the draft order by three months, from the 45 days it had mandated earlier.

“The agriculture ministry took a hasty decision. The industry has already submitted 80% of the required data and we are working closely with the ministry on fulfilling the remaining gaps," said Rajesh Aggarwal, managing director of Insecticides India Ltd.

According to Aggarwal, only allowing export of the 27 molecules will make the industry lose its global competence in the generics market. Currently, the domestic pesticide industry is valued at ₹40,000 crore annually, with half of revenues coming from exports.

"We are hopeful that following discussions with the ministry we will be able to save most of the 27 molecules. This will benefit small and marginal farmers in India who depend on cheaper generic pesticides," Aggarwal said.

Activists, advocating a ban, however, argue that at least 17 of the 27 molecules did not undergo bio-safety assessment and were ‘deemed to be registered’ when India brought in the Insecticides Act way back in 1968. "If data to prove the safety of these pesticides are available it should be put out in the public domain for independent scientific scrutiny," said Kavitha Kuruganti, co-convenor of ASHA.

"Short term profits for the industry cannot be the reason to take away the Right to Life of agricultural workers and farmers or to do irreparable harm to the environment," Kuruganti added.

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