An Industry of Death Wins

A hard-hitting exposé by CSE on how the pesticide industry connived with government officials and scientists in Kerala to successfully lift the ban on a deadly pesticide. At stake here is the integrity of the state government's decision-making for generations far into the future. It not only spells irreparable harm for the residents of Kerala, but also makes a mockery of public health concerns.

New Delhi, June 28, 2002: A recent confidential report by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad, has unequivocally blamed endosulfan, an organochlorine pesticide, as the reason for the unusually high cases of disease and deformity in Kerala's Kasaragod district. Endosulfan is either banned or restricted in many countries.

When Down To Earth first broke the story in February 2001, both the Union and the state governments imposed a ban on the spraying of the deadly pesticide in Kerala. But shockingly, the Kerala government lifted the ban on March 22, 2002 based on two industry-sponsored studies -- one by the Fredrick Institute of Plant Protection and Toxicology (FIPPAT) in Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu, and another by the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU).

Surprisingly, both these reports did not find any trace of endosulfan residue -- even though these samples were collected within a few months of the last aerial spraying (done by Plantation Corporation of Kerala since the mid-1970s on its cashew plantations). However, the NIOH study, conducted 10 months after the spraying, found conclusive evidence of endosulfan residues in water and blood samples collected from Kasaragod.

The Rs 4,100 crore-pesticide industry is working over time on a no-holds-barred campaign to promote endosulfan sales and ensure their own survival. India is the largest producer of endosulfan in the world. The murky games of the industry include disinformation campaigns, involving misleading advertisements, manufacturing scientific data by sponsoring 'scientific' studies, and influencing government scientists and officials. For the time being, their strategy seems to have worked. The silent screams of Kasaragod's residents have fallen deaf ears.

There is no safe level for endosulfan. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified endosulfan as "highly hazardous". Worldwide research emerging in the past few years has found a clear link between pesticides and mental retardation, stunted growth and even cancer. As is the case with the people affected in Kasaragod.

State government officials are taking recourse for this dangerous slide away in the fact that legally they cannot continue the ban. But Section 27 of the Insecticides Act, 1968, -- under which pesticides are regulated -- clearly states that the state government can either extend the ban or issue fresh orders. It is apparent that the A K Antony government has preferred complicity with the pesticide industry to public health commitments.

"Has this damning NIOH report been kept secret because it clearly implicates the pesticide industry," asks Jayakumar C of Thanal, a Thiruvananthapuram-based non-governmental organisation fighting for the victims.

Down To Earth's latest cover story (Endosulfan conspiracy, July 15) gives a blow-by-blow account of the pesticide industry's deadly intent to profit over public health.

For further details contact:
Souparno Banerjee
CSE Media Resource Centre
41,Tughlakabad Institutional Area,
New Delhi-110062, India
Tel: 91+ (011) 29955124, 29955125, 29956394, 29956401 Fax:29955879

Shree Padre
Village Padre, Kasaragod district
Ph: 0499-866148

Jaykumar C / Sridhar R
Thanal, a Thiruvananthapuram-based NGO
Ph: 0471-311896, 0-9847189168

Dr Sripathy Kajampady,
Kajampady Nursing Home
Ph: 0499-866133, 860233