Article sent to us by Tirtho Banetrjee

Some years back a poster depicting a woman's bare breasts held the caption-"Milk in these containers is unfit for human consumption." This is quite suggestive of the fact that the milk of every Indian mother contains DDT residues higher than the tolerance limit. Our daily diet has 0.27 mg DDT. A nation- wide survey of food contaminants few years back revealed excessive levels of cancer-causing fungal products in cereals and toxic metals in food products in India. An average Indian consumes 80 times more than the permitted amount of DDT via their food leading to heart ailments and other fatal diseases.
The Green Revolution that came to India in 1950 was ascribed to the large-scale use of pesticides in the country. With it ushered an era of self-sufficiency in foodgrain production. Pesticides had hit the markets and were hailed as a boon by farmers. However, soon a number of environmental problems as a consequence of excessive use of pesticides came to the fore. Dr. Rachel Carson's seminal book 'Silent Spring' published in 1962 was an eye-opener to many ardent supporters of pesticides. It demonstrated how indiscriminate use of pesticides had resulted in the decline in population of white-tailed eagles in Sweden, poisoning of penguins and sea-gulls in Antartica and to the death of several species of birds in USA besides inflicting other deadly ravages of the kind.

The response to this grave warning in many counries in the West was swift and widespread. And by 1972, the use of organochlorine pesticides was banned in the US and many European countries. But the developing countries have yet to wake up to the mortal danger inherent in the use of this chemical. Socio-economic reasons are usually advanced in support of pesticides in these countries. However, nothing can justify the use of a chemical that is bound to prove more suicidal than profitable to man.

All pesticides are lethal poisons. Due to the interrelatedness and the interdependence of organisms within an ecosystem, chemical pollutants can have far reaching effects in the environment through their accumulation in the food chain, in vegetables, fish, eggs, milk products, edible oil and in mother's milk and the unborn foetus.

INDIAN CONTEXT - India is the largest producer and consumer of pesticides. Inevitably, the problems that pesticides pose for us are indeed menacing. The country, at present, uses about 80,000 tonnes of technical grade pesticides annually to cover 182.5 million hectares of cultivated area. The demand is expected to rise to 1,54,000 tonnes anually by 2002. Besides, India accounts for one-third of pesticide poisoning in developing countries. Pests damage farm produce worth roughly Rs 6,000 crores a year, ranging between 10 and 20 per cent of what is produced.

The environmental hazard caused due to effluents, agricultural run-off and residues on crops is frightening. As pesticide uptake occurs mainly through the skin and eyes by inhalation or by ingestion, the Indian farmers, because of their ignorance are most vulnerably exposed to it. About 3 lakh Indian farmers lose their lives due to pesticide poisoning annually. In spite of the known potentiality of the harm wrought by pesticide , it is really alarming that the Dunkel Draft allows agricultural use of 8 out of the 12 most lethal pesticides in the world. WORLD SCENARIO : The total amount of pesticides applied worldwide is estimated to be around 2.5 million tonnes annually. Of this 50-60% are herbicides, 20-30% are insecticides and 10-20% are fungicides. Globally, about 50,000 accidental human poisoning take place due to pesticides and 10,000 deaths occur annually. Scattered individual cases of poisoning discovered from hospital records in some countries are not disclosed to health workers from the fear of ignominy. The results of surveys of the health hazards of pesticides go unpublished because scientists and journals are reluctant to report 'negative findings'.

In 1980, about 50,000 tonnes of pesticides were used for public health programmes in the developing countries. The sale of pesticides doubled between 1972 and 1985. During the last four years, there has been a dramatic increase in pesticides, particularly in Africa.

Fungicides in the USA, UK have been responsible for babies being born without eyeballs. Thinning of egg shell of birds leading to hatching difficulty and injury to embryo has been attributed to pesticide. A number of pesticides have been reported to be 'carcinogenic' to animals (rats and mice) and these substances clearly represent a potential hazard to human beings. Hayes in his standard work on the health hazards of pesticides cited 28 major outbreaks of pesticide poisoning due to contaminated food over a period of 40 years. Instances of pesticides' impact on human health are many but a few have reached epidemic proportions. Examples include the Karemi Yusho disease in Japan in 1968 which affected hundreds of people who ate the Karemi rice oil contaminated with chemicals. In Italy in 1976, many died due to exposure to another chemical, 'dioxin', released in a chemical explosion. In the world's worst industrial disaster--the Bhopal Gas Leak Tragedy-- there was an accidental release of toxic raw materials from a pesticide manufacturing plant. More recently, 1350 cases and 8 deaths occured in California among people who consumed watermelons that had been treated with 'aldicarb', a systemic pesticide t registered for such use.

FUTURE SCENARIO : It is a well established fact that during the next 20 years, global demand for farm products is likely to increase threefold due to both population increase and enhanced purchasing power. As more and more arable land gets degraded, production will take place in a limited area and consequently the pressure on land would increase. To feed the world's hungry millions the crop yield would have to be increased substantially. But, as pesticides are now contributing a negligible portion to the increased production and, producing more of ecological imbalance, it is high time that we weigh its harm with its profits. Pesticides routinely used alters microbe population. threatening the long-tarm viability of soil on plantation. Thus, production suffers. Moreover, nearly all the injurious insects have become adaptable to the new ecosystem under the insecticide umbrella. Due to continuous use of a single insecticide, it loses its potentiality leading to promotion of resistance in insects.

SOLUTION : Modern progressive agriculturists all the world over are persuading farmers to turn to economically and ecologically sound pest control technologies-- biological control agents, natural pesticides and chemicals that don' t harm the environment.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which combines the use of chemicals with biological controls and other measure which have no deleterious consequence, is the new buzzword and best possible solution at hand to the problem of pesticides. IPM involves use of natural organisms to tackle pests and organic farming without the use of chemical insect killers. For instance, the versatile Neem has wonderful pesticidal properties and the Western world is agog with possibilities which Neem can offer in IPM. Neem products have been cleared already in USA and several companies have started maunfacturing Neem pesticides containing 'azadiirachtin ' , Australia has taken to planned plantation of Neem trees to promote and develop the concept of appropriate technology.

Injurious insects may be controlled with the use of microorganisms in place of conventional chemical insecticides. Viruses, bacteria and fungi etc play an important role in the dynamics and natural control of insect pollution.

The establishment of a suitable infrastructure to ensure that the adverse effects of pesticide on both the human population and the environment are minimised will need efforts in all areas of pest management and control. Obviously, no one technique will work by itself. What is needed is an integration of a variety of ecologically sound methods. A wide range of plant-derived insecticides should be developed. India should set-up tolerance limits and stringent legal requirements as well as standards followed by legislation.

In addition, there is a paramount need for increased national and global awareness regarding how to control diseases associated with pesticide exposure. Misuse of pesticide is often the result of ignorance which can only be removed by education and training.

Environmental and biological monitoring and evaluation of health hazards due to pesticides have to be carried on a war-footing. Epidemiological data and honest reporting will give the much needed feedback in coping with this vitally serious issue .

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