Agriculture World

Global Ban on Swiss Pesticide ‘POLO’ needs attention

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan

The current state of regulation of pesticides in India, using the extant law called Insecticides Act 1968, has not caught up with post-modern pest management science nor has taken cognizance of a huge body of scientific evidence on the ill effects of synthetic pesticides. It is high time that new legislation is brought in however, what is unclear is if the Pesticides Management Bill 2020 has indeed overhauled its approach to regulation as needed.  

India is the fourth-largest producer of pesticides in the world, with the market segmentation tilted mainly towards insecticides, with herbicides on the increase in the recent past.t is reported that eight states consume more than 70% of the pesticides used in India. Amongst the crops, paddy accounts for the maximum share of consumption (26-28%), followed by cotton (18-20%), notwithstanding all the hype around Bt technology. There are 292 pesticides registered in the country, and it is estimated that there are around 104pesticides that are continued to be produced/used in India that have been banned in two or more countries in the world. The industry has grown to be an INR 20,000 crores business in India, with the top 3 companies having a   market share of 57 % (ASHA,AW, April 2020). 

The acute pesticide poisoning deaths and hospitalisations that Indian farmworkers and farmers fall prey to are ignominious by now. It is not just human beings but wildlife and livestock that are poisoned routinely by toxic pesticides as numerous reports indicate. Against this backdrop, any new Pesticides Management Bill (PMB) should be seen as an opportunity to set right many shortcomings of the existing regulatory regime around pesticides in India and to clean up our food and farming systems as much as we can (ASHA, AW, April 2020).

Syngenta AG is a global company that produces agrochemicals and seeds and is based in Basel Switzerland. The pesticide POLO used widely by cotton farmers allover has been taking  attention since 2017 as there were about 700 cases of pesticide poisoning reported from Yavatmal District in Maharashtra reports Hindu. It is also been heard that there are wise variety of concoctions of pesticides used in Cotton   and Polo is one among them. DNA reports about many farmers who had died and hundreds of others who were in hospital after inhaling poisonous pesticides while spraying crops.  

Polo -- specifically its active agent diafenthiuron -- was responsible for the poisoning and also found a common link between the people. When the cotton plants grow above their heights the farmers are forced to spray them closer to the mouths which results in them inhaling the pesticides. DNA reports that Syngenta noted that Polo "has been successfully and safely used by Indian Farmers across the country for the last 14 years," and that diafenthiuron is registered in 25 countries worldwide. 

POLO is again in news at a time when the government's draft order to ban 27 deadly insecticides is welcome and long overdue. Reports by Hindu states that t three farmers from Yavatmal district of Maharashtra filed a suit in a civil court in Basel, Switzerland seeking monetary compensation against global agrochemical giant Syngenta. Among the applicants reports Hindu that there are two women who have lost their husbands to pesticide poisoning while spraying Syngenta’s pesticide POLO on cotton fields in 2017. It is heard that there are three cases filed against SYNGENTA. 

One of the cases is to ban the export of the pesticide to other countries. It is of interest to note that diafenthiuron cannot be used in Switzerland, but it is exported to other countries. What we think is if they are aware of the risks they should never allow exporting products which are unsafe for its own people and to the environment.  

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