Sri Lanka in March this year banned the sale of Monsanto’s “Round Up” glyphosate weedicide after a study found that the weedicide is responsible for the increasing number of chronic kidney disease patients.
The decision to ban the weedicide sale was based on a directive of the President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who appointed a committee to look into the chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu).
The research study conducted by Dr. Channa Jayasumana of the Rajarata University found that while the weedicide itself is not nephrotoxic, when it combines with hard ground water containing metals such as cadmium and arsenic, either naturally present in the soil or added through fertilizer, glyphosate becomes extremely toxic to the kidney.
However, since then the validity of Dr. Jayasumana’s research had come under question as the manufacturer Monsanto and other agrochemical producers have raised objections to the findings saying that there is no evidence to suggest the conclusion that glyphosate is responsible for CKDu.
A European glyphosate task force also has concluded that there is no true link to the kidney disease.
GM Watch comment: As for the “European glyphosate task force” mentioned in the article, which has “concluded that there is no true link” between glyphosate herbicide and chronic kidney disease, let’s hope the Sri Lankan government recognises that this “task force” is entirely made up of the pesticide companies that make and sell glyphosate herbicide!Starting in the mid-1990s, CKDu was discovered among the rice paddy farmers in the North Central Province (NCP) of Sri Lanka and over the years since then, the disease spread rapidly to the other farming areas of the country, especially in North Central, North Western, Uva and Eastern Provinces.
A World Health Organization (WHO) reports estimated 15 percent of the population in North Central and Uva Province, about 60 000 people, had CKDu, and that 22,000 had died in the past 20 years in Anuradhapura alone from it.
The Agriculture Department, while noting that they have not found conclusive evidence which relates the kidney disease to pesticides in general, say that a glyphosate ban will affect the tea plantations and also the paddy cultivation drastically as it is the only effective weedicide for paddy and other commercial crops like, tea, coconut and rubber.
The Department however, cautioned that any pesticide/weedicide use has adverse effects on health and advised the farmers to use them in a controlled manner, according to a report in Ceylon Today.
Special officers will be deployed at Provincial Council levels to monitor and train farmers on the proper usage of glyphosate, the Department said.
Agrochemical Business and Chronic Kidney Disease
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.”
This is a famous statement of pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984). Throughout last decade mainstream media and public discussion in Sri Lanka were not enough focused on Chronic Kidney Disease in the North-Central province of Sri Lanka. Now, in 2014, the situation is alarming; the deadly disease has raised its ugly head with more energy and come to your door step. Virtually, it is a situation of do or die.
“School children in the North-Central province are no exception from deadly Chronic Kidney Disease prevailing in the area. We thought earlier that the middle age farmers are the victims of the disease. But, it is not a valid argument any more.” said Dr. Channa Jayasumana, Lecturer, Medical Faculty of University of Rajarata .
Dr. Jayasumana, whose research interests in Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown origin – aetiological factors and therapeutics, working for the Faculty of Medicine and Allied Sciences of the Rajarata University of Sri Lanka highlighted that the new situation is extremely serious and calls for an immediate action.
The devastating renal disease first came into the light in 2000’s. It was given the label chronic kidney disease of unknown aetiology (CKDu). So far, no exact cause has been confirmed over the origin of the disease.
The damages caused by the CKDu are different to other renal failures: diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. Progress of the disease is dawdling and asymptomatic. Hence, the medical officers are facing a severe challenge as no significant clinical feature is visible during the early stage of the disease.
The menace is highly observable in the areas like Senapura, Kahatagasdigiliya, Mihintale, Talawa, Ipalogama, Rambagalabindunu Wewa and Rambewa in the North Central Province; The situation has caused internal migration, too.
Poor farmers and their families are fallen prey in the dangerous illness; it is estimated that Kidney disease could spread into an area of more than 20,000 square kilometers, possible to attack 2.8 million countrymen in the coming years.
A WHO study confirmed by the health authorities of the Sri Lanka says more than 450,000 people have been affected by CDKu. According to the WHO, pesticides distributed in the environment in different forms – for instance, higher cadmium, lead and arsenic percentages in the phosphate fertilizer agricultural soils – have contributed to the prevalence of the disease. Some harmful residues generated from the overuse of pesticides were found in urine, hair and nail samples taken from people in the severely affected areas.
In year 2013, around 2,000 deaths reported country-wide as a result of the disease. The figure is on the rise. The Ministry of Health of Sri Lanka incurs approximately 3 million US dollars per annum to treat CKDu patients.
In the face of pressure mounted by the environmentalists and activists, Sri Lankan authorities had to prohibit the import of three pesticides -- chlopyrifos, propanil and vabarly-- to quell the discomfiture.
Even though the country’s law does not allow individuals or organizations to import agro-chemicals with arsenic and other harmful materials, most of the business conglomerates do so and are protected by the authorities in the corrupt system of Sri Lanka.
Most of the researchers delved into the issue of CKDu in the country find that metalloid arsenic, a natural environmental contaminant to which humans are routinely exposed in food, water, air, and soil, is the basic cause for the gruesome menace. Arsenic has been a part and parcel of pesticides for more than a century. The experts explain that contamination of arsenic would result from gastrointestinal distress to death of the human body, depending on the extent of exposure.
Rachel Louise Carson, an American marine biologist and conservationist, who authored the book titled “Silent Spring” noted that "For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death." It is crystal clear that the human species has entered into a crucial phase of their progress, particularly in terms of food production. The new situation also showcases the dire need of having paradigm shift in the food production means.
She also notes that “I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm.”
K.P. Sasi, in his work, Myths on Pesticides, points out roots of chemical pesticides goes back to the modern warfare. When Nazi Germany was led by the tyrant leader Adolf Hitler, scientists were guided to create chemical weapons, the original form of today’s pesticides -- like Malathion and Parathion -- to cause damages over their enemies during the Second World War.
Pesticides are present every where in the modern life; in 2007, the world used more than 5.2 billion pounds of weed killers, insecticides, and fungicides.
In conclusion, it has to be declared that chronic kidney disease of unknown aetiology is not just a matter of Sri Lanka and its people at all. It tells a story about carelessness, greediness, selfishness and unsustainable life of the modern man, by and large. Eventually, it is again selfishness; I am in a hurry to take an action before they attack my kidney.