Punjab Government Bans sale of Herbicide

Prelims level : Environment Mains level : G.S- III Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
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Why in News?

  • • The Punjab government has banned the sale of glyphosate, a herbicide which is extensively used in the State to control a wide variety of weeds in almost all the crops.

About the ban:

  • This chemical has been observed to be a Group 2A cancer-causing material. Besides cancer, this chemical is also known for causing other health problems and has the potential to damage human DNA as per the opinion of experts from PGIMER, Chandigarh,” said an official statement here.
  • Glyphosate is sold in the country under various trade names such as Round-up, Excell, Glycel, Glider, Glydon, etc. The Punjab State Farmers Commission had also recommended a ban on the sale of the chemical in Punjab.
  • State Agriculture Secretary K.S. Pannu on Wednesday said that the Central Insecticide Board and Registration Committee has recommended the use of the herbicide only for tea gardens and non-cropped areas and therefore there is a dire need for strict compliance under the Insecticides Act, 1968.

Manifold increase in usage of glyphosate:

  • As much as 8.6 billion kg of glyphosate has been used globally since it was introduced in 1974. Globally, total use increased from about 51 million kg in 1995 to about 750 million kg in 2014—nearly a 15-fold jump.
  • This jump has been attributed to introduction of herbicide tolerant GM plants. In India, about 0.866 million kg of glyphosate was sold in 2014-15, according to the Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine and Storage.
  • In the US, over 4,000 lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto—the company which manufactured this herbicide. The first case, being heard in a court in San Francisco at present, is of DeWayne Johnson, a 46-year-old groundskeeper. He says the company failed to warn him of the dangers of using glyphosate, and as a result, he is suffering from terminal cancer.
  • Monsanto was acquired by Bayer, a German pharmaceutical company, on June 7 this year.

Why farmers continue to use Glyphosate?

  • Despite being aware of its toxicity, farmers in India want the chemical as it helps them control weeds in their farms at a lower cost. Cost of weeding can be as much as three times lower if glyphosate is used instead of manual labour.
  • Farmers use glyphosate on all kinds of crops; they cover the crop plant with plastic baskets to protect them and spray the chemical on the weeds around it.
  • However, for genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops, the usage is more as farmers spray it more liberally across fields to clear the weeds.
  • Farmers cannot afford to think about the long-term adverse health effects of the chemical. States are likely to fail in their effort to restrict the use of glyphosate as they do not have the power to ban a chemical.

Health impact of glyphosate:

  • In 2017, at least 23 people had died in the district after inhaling pesticides being sprayed on cotton crop.
  • An assessment by PAN suggests that this could be due to the cultivation of GM herbicide-tolerant cotton seeds. It seems that Roundup Ready Flex seeds were being illegally cultivated in the region.
  • The tall plants growing close to each other trapped the pesticide which the labourers inhaled. To prevent such deaths, the state authority banned five pesticides.
  • Though glyphosate was not one of these pesticides, there is no doubt that glyphosate is toxic.

Central Insecticides Board & Registration Committee (CIBRC):

  • Central Insecticides Board & Registration Committee (CIBRC) under the Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine & Storage, Department of Agriculture & Cooperation was set up by the Ministry of Agriculture in the year 1970 to regulate the import, manufacture, sale, transport, distribution and use of insecticides with a view to prevent risks to human beings and animals and for other matters connected therewith. Insecticides Act, 1968 was brought into force with effect from 1st August, 1971 with the publication of Insecticides Rules, 1971.
  • The Central Insecticides Board (CIB) advises the Central Government and State Governments on technical matters arising out of the administration of this Act and to carry out the other functions assigned to the Board by or under this rule. Major functions are:
    • Advise the Central Government on the manufacture of insecticides under the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951 (65 of 1951).
    • Specify the uses of the classification of insecticides on the basis of their toxicity as well as their being suitable for aerial application.
    • Advise tolerance limits for insecticides residues and establishment of minimum intervals between the application of insecticides and harvest in respect of various commodities.
    • Specify the shelf-life of insecticides.
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