Toxic Food — Poison On Our Plate?

Satyamev Jayate Episode 7

Aamir Khan talks about organic versus the normal fruit and vegetables produced by heavy use of pesticides and fungicides in agricultural practices in India. Endosulphan pesticide is used in India where there are no regulations to check its growing use and its teratogenic effects that it is passed on to the foetus by the pregnant mother.

Toxic Food — Poison On Our Plate?

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For decades our food and water have been contaminated by powerful, harmful pesticides which have been promoted as necessary for better agricultural output. But the reality is that we don’t need pesticides for better yield, and their use is not only deadly for health but results in expensive farming methods. The solution is to adopt organic farming, which is possible and profitable, as the state of Sikkim has shown.


Endosulfan is an off-patent organochlorine insecticide and acaricide that is being phased out globally. Endosulfan became a highly controversial agrichemicaldue to its acute toxicity, potential for bioaccumulation, and role as an endocrine disruptor. Because of its threats to human health and the environment, a global ban on the manufacture and use of endosulfan was negotiated under the Stockholm Convention in April 2011. The ban will take effect in mid 2012, with certain uses exempted for 5 additional years. More than 80 countries,  including the European Union, Australia and New Zealand, several West African nations,the United States, Brazil  and Canada had already banned it or announced phase outs by the time the Stockholm Convention ban was agreed upon.

It is still used extensively in India, China, and few other countries.  

Several studies have documented that endosulfan can also affect human development. Researchers studying children from many villages in Kasargod District, Kerala, India have linked endosulfan exposure to delays in sexual maturity among boys. Endosulfan was the only pesticide applied to cashew plantations in the villages for 20 years and had contaminated the village environment. The researchers compared the villagers to a control group of boys from a demographically similar village that lacked a history of endosulfan pollution. Relative to the control group, the exposed boys had high levels of endosulfan in their bodies, lower levels of testosterone, and delays in reaching sexual maturity. Birth defects of the male reproductive system including cryptorchidism were also more prevalent in the study group. The researchers concluded that “our study results suggest that endosulfan exposure in male children may delay sexual maturity and interfere with sex hormone synthesis.”Increased incidences of cryptorchidism have been observed in other studies of endosulfan  exposed populations.

Endosulfan is not listed as known, probable, or possible carcinogen by the EPA, IARC, or other agencies. There are no epidemiological studies linking exposure to endosulfan specifically to cancer in humans, but in vitro assays have shown that endosulfan can promote proliferation of human breast cancer cells.Evidence of carcinogenicity in animals is mixed.

Although classified as a yellow label (highly toxic) pesticide by the Central Insecticides Board, India is one of the largest producers and the largest consumer of Endosulfan in the world. Of the total volume manufactured in India, three companies ”” Excel Crop Care, Hindustan Insecticides Ltd, and Coromandal Fertilizers ””produce 4,500 tonnes annually for domestic use and another 4,000 tonnes for export. Endosulfan is widely used in most of the plantation crops in India. Toxicity of endosulfan and health issues due to its bioaccumulation came under media attention when health isuues precipitated in the Kasaragod district (of Kerala state) was publicised. This inspired protests and the pesticide was banned in the state of Kerala as early as 2001 following a report by the National Institute of Occupational Health. In the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants of 2011, when an international consensus arose for the global ban of the pesticide, ironically India stood against this move owing to pressure from the endosulfan manufacturing companies. This flared up the protest, and while India still maintained its stance, the global conference decided on a globan ban, for which India asked a remission for 10 years. Later, on a petition filed in the Supreme Court of India, the production, storage, sale and use of the pesticide was temporarily banned on 13 May 2011, and later permanently by the end of 2011.

Karnataka Government also banned the use of endosulfan, an insecticide, with immediate effect. Briefing presspersons after the State Cabinet meeting, Minister for Higher Education V.S. Acharya said the Cabinet discussed the harmful effects of endosulfan on the health of farmers and people living in rural areas. The government will now invoke the provisions of the Insecticides Act, 1968 (a Central act) and write a letter to the Union Government about the ban. Minister for Energy, and Food and Civil Supplies Shobha Karandlaje, who has been spearheading a movement seeking a ban on endosulfan, said, “I am grateful to Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa and members of the Cabinet for approving the ban.

On February 18, 2011, the Karnataka Government followed suit and suspended the use of Endosulfan for a period of 60 days in the state. Indian Union Minister of Agriculture Sharad Pawar has ruled out implementing a similar ban at the national level despite the fact that endosulfan has banned in 63 countries including European Union, Australia and New Zealand.

The Government of Gujarat had initiated a study in response to the workers rally in Bhavnagar and representations made by Sishuvihar, an NGO based in Ahmadabad. The committee constituted for the study also included former Dy. Director of NIOH, Ahmadabad. The committee noted that the WHO, FAO, IARC and US EPA have indicated that endosulfan is not carcinogenic, not teratogenic, not mutagenic and not genotoxic. The highlight of this report is the farmer exposure study based on analysis of their blood reports for residues of endosulfan and the absence of any residues. This corroborates the lack of residues in worker exposure studies.

The Supreme Court passed interim order on May 13, 2011 and banned the production, distribution and use of endosulfan in India because the pesticide has debilitating effects on humans and the environment. Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) welcomed this order and called it a ”˜resounding defeat’ for the pesticide industry which has been promoting this deadly toxin. A 2001 study by CSE had established the linkages between the aerial spraying of the pesticide and the growing health disorders in Kasaragod. Over the years, other studies have confirmed these findings, and the health hazards associated with endosulfan are now widely known and accepted.


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