Agriculture

Why India should ban, not just restrict, use of dangerous weedicide glyphosate

Long-pending demand from civil society and activists to ban glyphosate fallen on deaf ears

 
By Vineet Kumar
Published: Tuesday 01 November 2022
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The Indian government is finally ‘satisfied’ formally that the use of glyphosate, a widely used weedicide, involves health hazards for human beings and animals. However, the use is still restricted and not banned. 

The Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare decided to restrict the Glyphosate usage through a notification ‘Restriction on use of Glyphosate Order, 2022’ dated October 21, 2022. 

This decision has been taken after considering the report of the Expert Committee and consultation with the Registration Committee, set up under the Insecticides Act, 1968. The notification refers to the central government receiving a report from the Kerala government for prohibiting the distribution, sale and use of glyphosate and its derivatives. 

Around 35 brands of glyphosate are available in India, according to a report by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), a non-profit working on pesticide issues.

These are Allkill, Azad, Bound off, Brake (manufactured by Biostadt), Brake up (Plant Rem), Cedar, Clean-up (Indofil), Cleanup, Clinton, Dera, Everspread, Excel Mera71, Fausta, Gladiator (Devidayal), Globus, Glory, Glycare, Glycel (Excel), Glyfokil, Glyfos, Glyphogal SL, Glyphos, Glytaf, Glytech, Kill shot, Nippout, Noweed, Root-up, Roundup (Insecticide India), Safal (Tropical AS), Safal 71, Srigent (Jayasree Rasayan Udyog), Sweep and Weedoff.

Widespread illegal use in India

In India, glyphosate use was approved only for tea crop and non-crop areas for control of weeds. Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are the major tea plantation states in India. 

But glyphosate consumption data shows a different picture. Consumption is higher in states that do not have tea crops, government data showed. For example, the highest consumption of glyphosate (indigenous) in India for 2020-21 was in Uttar Pradesh (89 per cent of overall consumption), followed by Gujarat (2.9 per cent), Jammu and Kashmir (2.6 per cent), Tamil Nadu (2 per cent), Assam (1.6 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (0.9 per cent) and others. 

For 2019-20, again the highest glyphosate (indigeneous) consumption was in Uttar Pradesh (82.1 per cent), followed by Rajasthan (4.4 per cent), Jammu and Kashmir (4 per cent), Haryana (3.8 per cent), Gujarat (2.6 per cent), Assam (1.4 per cent) and others.  

The author confirmed the widespread availability and usage of Glyphosate in states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab through interviewing pesticides dealers and farmers. These states clearly do not have any tea crops, where glyphosate is allowed. 

 

Source: State / Union territory zonal conference on inputs of plant protection for Kharif and Rabi seasons. Data does not include imported figures of glyphosate

Farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Telangana and West Bengal were found using glyphosate illegally in more than 20 field crops (16 food crops) during a field study by PAN India in 2017.

At least 24 different brands of glyphosate formulations were found in these states, which include Roundup, Glycel, Glypfos, Safal, Weedoff, among others. 

Many states have not documented / reported the glyphosate consumption figures in their submission to the Centre. 

A basic internet search also revealed online availability of glyphosate across the country. Manufacturers include indigenous companies as well as some of the biggest agro-chemical giants globally.  

Dangerous chemical

The Government of Kerala, in a letter to the central government dated June 20, 2019, had talked about glyphosate (weedicide) being widely and indiscriminately used in paddy fields by farmers. It also referred to a Kerala agriculture university study showing higher pesticides residues in fruits and vegetables. 

It reported that earthworms exposed to glyphosate (Roundup 360) showed a sharp decline in survival rate as well as the number of earthworm cocoons. The surface casting activity of vertically burrowing earthworms almost ceased after three weeks and reproduction of soil dwellers reduced by 56 per cent within three months after herbicide application, the report also showed.

There are long-term negative consequences for honey bee navigation, contamination of water bodies and serious health hazards, it highlighted.


Read more: Monsanto asked to pay $2 billion for carcinogenic product


The International Agency for Research on Cancer, France classified glyphosate as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ in 2015. They found ‘sufficient’ evidence of causing cancer in animals as well as ‘strong’ evidence of damaging DNA. 

The chemical also has the ability to induce genetic damage and oxidative stress in cells, according to the report. 

The European Chemical Agency found glyphosate causing grave damage to eyes and toxic to aquatic organisms with long-term effect. A study by the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru linked glyphosate with interference in functioning of the pituitary gland. 

Glyphosate has been banned or severely restricted in more than 35 countries, according to PAN. These include Sri Lanka, Netherlands, France, Colombia, Canada, Israel and Argentina as well as six Indian states.

Restriction welcome but insufficient 

The new restriction on use of glyphosate is a welcome step forward. However, the central government has shied away from banning it completely despite a long-pending demand from civil society and activists working in India. 

The notification mentions no person shall use glyphosate except pest control operators. However, it is not clear who will be those pest control operators and what will be the modus operandi to implement this rule. 

Past ground experience has clearly shown that while glyphosate was allowed only for tea crops, it was illegally used for various crops across the country. A complete ban may serve the purpose to stop illegal use of this dangerous weedicide. 

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