We can wash and clean our vegetables plenty of times but that’s not the right solution. The solution lies in our regulatory system.

Features Thursday, October 23, 2014 - 05:30
By Dr. GPI Singh Pesticides are everywhere - whether it is their use in our farms or their prevalence in our plates. We have somehow convinced ourselves or have been convinced that if we set certain regulatory standards we can conveniently forget about the negative impacts of pesticides and continue their rampant use. But the regulatory mechanism can only play a minimum role or in some cases none in protecting consumers, farmers and our environment from these harmful chemicals. In the recent years we have seen the regulation not being able to control the presence of banned pesticide residues reaching our plates or their use on the field. In 2013 the Kerala Agricultural University had found dangerous levels of banned pesticides like Profenofos in key vegetables like cabbage, tomatoes and onions. Earlier this year, High Court in Delhi pronounced some of the city’s fruits and vegetables unfit for consumers as they contain alarming levels of pesticides. And most recently Greenpeace released a report on pesticide residues in tea, claiming that there were pesticides found that were unapproved for tea cultivation which includes monocrotophos and illegal pesticide like Tebufenpyrad which have not been registered for use in India. These reports are meant to be a wakeup call to policy makers and the Industries who have business interest in selling safe products to their consumers domestically and internationally. Unfortunately their first reaction is to defend themselves using the current regulatory system. But sadly this regulatory system is no measure of safety right from crop to product. In India pesticides are regulated by the Central Insecticide Board and Registration Committtee (CIBRC), which registers pesticide for use in various crops in Indian agriculture. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) sets the maximum residue levels (MRLs) of pesticides for the crops that they have been registered for. A study done by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) last year points out to the conflicting and confusing state of pesticide regulation in our country. Today there are 248 chemical pesticides registered in the country, but the rationale for permitting them is far from clear. The CSE study shows that for 234 registered pesticides, the FSSAI has not set MRLs for 59 pesticides. Similarly in tea as suggested by the recent Greenpeace report out of the 28 odd pesticides registered for tea, only 7 pesticides have fixed MRLs.  It seems like the current regulatory system is in crisis and the MRLs as an indicator of safety is completely flawed. The fact that MRLs are missing for pesticides only goes to show that they are an administrative formality rather than an effective regulatory tool. MRLs are risk based assessment to minimise risk to health, this does not guarantee safety especially not to the impacts to the applicators of these pesticides in the fields and the environment. Most importantly people as well as the environment are exposed to a number of pesticide residues and there is no internationally accepted procedure to evaluate the cumulative effects of a number of pesticides. There is growing evidence to substantiate the fact that chemicals can interact in a synergistic way so their combined impact is stronger. It is quite clear that we cannot trust the regulatory indicators like MRLs to ensure safety for ourselves as well as our future generations from the harmful impacts of pesticides. It becomes very important, not to hide behind the regulatory mechanism and take note that there are potential risks to people from the exposure of pesticides but our children are at a higher risk, and thus these risks should not be mitigated but avoided. Children are especially sensitive to pesticides as they eat more food and drink more water than adults. They are also rapidly growing and developing and these developmental pathways are easily disrupted. Since children have more years than adults, they have more time to develop chronic diseases due to bio-accumulation of pesticides. Infact the risk for children to be exposed to pesticides exists even before birth through the placenta and at infancy through mother’s breast milk. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that it is crucial to protect mothers from toxic contaminants. The WHO had also cited that 30% of the diseases that are acquired by children, can be due to environmental factors, including pesticides. There are many available evidences for a medical professional to recommend avoiding pesticide exposure, but how does one do this effectively. The sad reality is that one cannot avoid the risks of pesticides exposure till there is a changed mind set in policy makers and alternatives at farm-level. We can wash and clean our vegetables plenty of times but that’s not the right solution. The solution lies in our regulatory system being more stringent than it is at present and practicing precaution. The adoption of the precautionary approach also means evaluation of present ecological alternatives and where necessary development of newer alternatives.  The industry must also fulfil its commitment to consumers by ensuring there are sustainable practices at the farm, which will not only ensure safety of farmer but also the environment. The health and well-being of young India depends very much on this much needed paradigm shift away from the use of pesticides. Dr. GPI Singh is Vice Chancellor of Adesh University, Bathinda Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of The News Minute and The News Minute does not assume any liability on the same.

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