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Bee Pollen And Hives Laden With Pesticides, Study Shows.

Posted Mar 26 2010 12:00am
Sickness Stalks Indian Farmers Using Chemical Banned in Europe
March 25, 2010, 3:47 PM EDT
By Jay Shankar

March 26 (Bloomberg) -- Seven-year-old Yeshaswini Gowda lies on the floor of her home in southern India unable to talk or walk. Her mother blames the severe disability on endosulfan, an insecticide banned in 60 countries.

“When I was pregnant, helicopters used to spray endosulfan in the nearby cashew plantations and at times it used to fall on my body,” said Damayanty Gowda, 28, in the village of Nidle in Karnataka state. “My two other children died and it can’t be due to anything but the chemical.”

Indian officials aren’t so sure. While a 2007 European Union report tied endosulfan to physical and mental illnesses and deaths, India’s federal government says there’s no evidence that long-term exposure carries health risks. Indian companies led by Hindustan Insecticides Ltd. are the world’s biggest producers and the government has vowed to vote against including the pesticide on a United Nations list of dangerous chemicals at a conference in Geneva from Oct. 11.

The dispute underscores the dilemma India faces in balancing health concerns while feeding the world’s second-most populous nation after the weakest monsoon since 1972 propelled food-price inflation to among the highest in Asia.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh last month halted cultivation of the country’s first genetically modified vegetable -- an eggplant designed to resist attacks by common pests and, its backers said, reduce the need for pesticides -- due to health concerns.

Backing Ban

Some countries feel endosulfan is “a persistent pollutant,” Pankaj Kumar, joint secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture in New Delhi, said in a phone interview. “The data available with us indicates otherwise. It’s an issue of scientific evidence.”

The EU wants endosulfan, first registered in the U.S. in 1954 by Hoechst AG, included in the UN Environment Program’s Stockholm Convention that aims to control and eliminate toxic carbon compounds.

“Excessive and improper application and handling of endosulfan have been linked to congenital physical disorders, mental retardations and deaths in farm workers and villagers in developing countries in Africa, southern Asia and Latin America,” according to a 2007 EU proposal to the UN to support placing the chemical on the list of prohibited substances.

Spray Method

Bayer CropScience ceased production of endosulfan in 2007 and will stop its sale globally this year after a phase-out period ends, spokesman Utz Klages said in an e-mailed statement from the firm’s headquarters in Monheim, Germany.

“We are aware that crop protection products may not be used correctly under certain circumstances in some Third World nations,” Bayer CropScience said on its Web site.
India, along with Australia, Brazil, China and the U.S., continues to use endosulfan, arguing it’s affordable and safe, the farm ministry’s Kumar said. In India, it’s also sprayed on rice, potatoes and tomatoes.

In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency says ecological and occupational risks posed by endosulfan can likely be mitigated to “levels below concern” through changes to pesticide labeling and formulations.
Indian manufacturers led by Excel Crop Care Ltd., Coromandel International Ltd. and Hindustan Insecticides export about a third of total output, N. Ramamurthy, general manager of marketing at Hindustan Insecticides, said. Endosulfan accounts for at least a third of revenue, the companies say.

‘Safe Product’

“It was a safe product for the last 45 years and sold in more than 60 countries,” Dipesh Shroff, managing director of Mumbai-based Excel Crop Care, said. “You can’t blame a product just because it is banned in Europe.”

Health and government officials in India’s southern states disagree. There is an adverse link between endosulfan and human health, said Thelma Narayan, an epidemiologist and co-founder of the Society for Community Health Awareness, Research and Action based in Bangalore, Karnataka’s capital. “It violates the right to one’s health and the government is sidestepping its responsibilities,” she said, citing research in villages where endosulfan was applied.

In the neighboring state of Kerala’s Padre village, where the Plantation Corporation of Kerala aerially sprayed endosulfan for 20 years up to 2000, a 2002 study by India’s state- administered National Institute of Occupational Health found that children exposed to endosulfan had congenital abnormalities and neurobehavioral disorders.

No Linkage

A government panel in 2004 said health problems in the village were not linked to endosulfan use. As a “precaution” it stopped the corporation spraying the chemical. The findings and recommendations were endorsed by the federal government.

Karnataka state followed Kerala and stopped aerial application in 2001 after two decades of dousing cashew plantations. State Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa linked the pesticide to disabilities in 231 people, according to a statement on his Web site. The government gave 211 families compensation of 50,000 rupees ($2,273) last month, it said.The Gowdas in Nidle village received compensation, deputy administrative officer N. Manikya said. Still, although 118 people, including Yeshaswini, have severe disabilities, “it is not clear if these are being caused by endosulfan,” he said.

In neighboring Kokadda village, where endosulfan was used on cashew plants, Gracy D’Souza says the connection is clear. Her 20-year-old son Santosh Menezes lies on a mattress unable to walk or speak. “The government gave us compensation and 1,000 rupees every month for medical expenses,” D’Souza said. “We were exposed to the aerial spray for at least 10 years.”--

With assistance from Naomi Kresge in Munich. Editors: Mark Williams, Stephen Foxwell
To contact the reporter on this story: Jay Shankar in Bangalore at jshankar1@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Foxwell in Mumbai at sfoxwell@bloomberg.net
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