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Debate over health and environment concerns
A controversy has sparked between non-profit Greenpeace and the Indian Association of Biotech led Enterprise–Agriculture Group (ABLE-AG) over the use of glyphosate in the country.
Glyphosate is an active ingredient used in herbicides which are chemical solutions used to kill weeds (unwanted plants). Glyphosate-based herbicides are non-selective and kill all vegetation except the crop developed for its tolerance.
Scientific studies show that glphyosate can cause serious health effects like human birth defects and blood cancer as well as affect reproductive hormone secretion, says Greenpeace.
The non-profit stated this in its recently released report “Herbicide Tolerance and GM crops–Why the world should be ready to round-up Glyphosate”. The report was released on August 4 at Constitution Club of India in Delhi and is a compilation of literature from across the globe on the impacts of glyphosate.
However, ABLE-AG, an association of leading multinational and Indian biotech companies of India, has refuted the allegations and claimed that regulatory agencies around the world have concluded that glyphosate-based herbicides pose no significant risk to human health and environment. ABLE is an association comprising multinational’s like Bayer, BASF, Devgen, Dow, Pioneer, Monsanto, Syngenta and India companies Advanta, JK, Mahyco, Metahelix and Nath Seeds.
Kapil Mishra, sustainable agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace, says glyphosate-based herbicides are popularly known as Roundup from the brand name assigned to it by Monsanto, which developed the herbicide in 1970s. He adds, “At present, Monsanto India Limited and Pioneer Overseas Corporation along with many other companies are working on developing herbicide-tolerant cotton and maize in India. These crops are at the stage of field trials and if they are allowed to be grown commercially, it will increase consumption of glyphosate in country on a large scale. At present glyphosate usage is very insignificant in India because farmers prefer to remove weeds manually.”
“With such harmful effects of glyphosate coming to foray we need to be vigilant. Besides, regulatory mechanism in the country for GM crops is already weak and allowing trials of such crops is a threat to both human health and environment,” says Kapil.
The Greenpeace report says that independent scientific studies have shown birth defects in the Argentinean state of Chaco where GM soya and rice crops are heavily sprayed with glyphosate. The defects nearly increased fourfold from 2000 to 2009. Cases of defects were also reported from pregnant women in Paraguay exposed to glyphosate-based herbicides. Studies have also shown that glyphosate can act as an endocrine disruptor, affecting production of vital reproductive hormones such as progesterone and estrogen.
ABLE-AG claims that glyphosate is degraded over time by soil microbes into naturally-occurring substances and is safe for the environment. The association says that robust data establishing that glyphosate is safe is available. Many regulatory agencies across the world have concluded that it is not a reproductive toxin or a teratogen (cause for birth defects). No such effects have also been observed in anecdotal results from firsthand experience of millions of farmers and home gardeners who have been using this product for decades.
ABLE-AG also says Roundup herbicide is the cornerstone of weed management programs on many farms and provides economic benefits of conservation tillage making weed management easy. They accused those who are ideologically opposed to biotechnology often utilise unvalidated claims to further their agenda while ignoring the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence.
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