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RSS-Backed Swadeshi Manch Takes On Modi Government Again

By: Nantoo Banerjee

If Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an affiliate of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has its way, it may once again force the government to ban the use of Monsanto’s controversial ‘Roundup’ and other glyphosate-based herbicides by farmers soon. These chemicals are widely believed to pose significant risks to human health. Recently, Manch (SJM) demanded a complete ban on the use of glyphosate, saying it is carcinogenic and damaging to consumer health, ecology and interests of farmers, farm workers and their livelihoods.  It submitted a memorandum, carrying signatures of over two lakh people, to Union Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Minister Narendra Singh seeking a complete ban on the weedicide. It may be recalled that two years ago under similar circumstances, the Narendra Modi government pulled out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal under intense pressure from the RSS affiliates, led by SJM and its co-convenor Ashwani Mahajan. SJM held a 10-day nationwide protest against India’s participation in the RCEP talks before the government announced its complete withdrawal. Finally, the government said it decided not to join the RCEP trade deal as it did not get any “credible assurance for India on market access and non-tariff barriers.” The BJP government is yet to react on the latest SJM demand seeking a blanket ban on Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides.

In July, 2020, the government did issue an order stating that no person should use glyphosate except through pest control operators. However, the SJM said “these measures are meaningless and will be impossible to implement based on experience with inability to control other illegal practices like illegal herbicides-tolerant (HT) crops with which glyphosate is presently being used” and that “it will result in increased damage to consumer health, farmer interests, farm workers livelihoods and ecology.” The HT crop varieties include corn, soybean, canola (oilseed rape) and cotton. SJM said “glyphosate is a known carcinogen and endocrine disruptor and is linked with several serious illnesses.” This has been going on for years with the full knowledge of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee and state governments. Seed firms are said to be trying to illegally spread herbicide tolerant BT cotton, on lakhs of acres of land, to promote the use of glyphosate. It may be interesting to note that in 2015, after several years of study, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen”. It is said that over one lakh cases are pending against Monsanto/Bayer Company for damages by the users of its glyphosate based herbicide after they (the litigants) developed 10 different types of cancer, including non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Punjab, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are among the Indian states which are said to be considering a ban on glyphosate due to their concerns for consumers, farmers and environment.

Incidentally, Monsanto, over a century-old giant US agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation, was acquired by Germany’s Bayer AG in 2018. Glyphosate is no longer under patent. Similar products use it as an active ingredient. Lately, Roundup has come under severe criticism and subjected to official debates in several countries, including those under the European Union. Though multiple studies have found that herbicides like Roundup are more likely to cause cell-cycle dysregulation, a cancer hallmark, than glyphosate alone. It was found that one of the inert ingredients in Roundup was up to 2,000 times more toxic to cells than glyphosate. An overwhelming majority of the glyphosate reportedly used in America is on farms. That’s because Monsanto had engineered “Roundup ready” crops that are designed to withstand the chemical while still killing unwanted weeds. The dosage and frequency of Roundup used on crops are increased regularly to kill weedicide-resistant ‘super weeds.’  Luxembourg was the first EU member to completely ban all products containing glyphosate. In May 2019, it was announced that France would eliminate the use of glyphosate by 2021 with limited exceptions. An earlier report by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) on the use of glyphosate was quite damaging. The report concluded the weed killer’s main component, glyphosate, was “probably carcinogenic in humans.” The IARC stated that the cancers most associated with glyphosate exposure were found to be non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other hematopoietic cancers. In addition, the substance can probably cause DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells, as well as genotoxic, hormonal and enzymatic effects in mammals.

There has been public outcry across the world surrounding the use of glyphosate. Even a section of researchers in the US has been strongly against the use of the weedicide. The US nonprofit organisation Environmental Working Group found all but two of 45 samples of products made with conventionally grown oats contained glyphosate residue, most at higher levels than what the scientists consider protective of children’s health. This completely ruined Roundup’s image as a safe and reliable product. A 2016 US public opinion study showed some 66 percent of respondents favouring a glyphosate ban. The next year, over 1.3 million people reportedly signed a petition calling for a European ban of glyphosate, and putting pressure on Brussels to restrict or even ban the use of the herbicide. Four years ago, the controversy led to a high drama among EU member states which went in for voting on the issue of extending the commercial license of the weed killer till 2022.The proposal got through narrowly after the ‘yes’ vote of the then German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt.

Interestingly, Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s latest campaign to pressurise the BJP government could not have come at a better time when Uttar Pradesh, India’s top agricultural state, gears up for election. The Manch’s concern over the use of glyphosate is very genuine. And, it sounds quite illogical that a highly controversial weed killer such as glyphosate should be allowed by the government at the risk of public health. There are many safe ways to get rid of weeds. They include simple crop rotations, the use of organic farming practices, or just yanking the weeds out of the backyard. All eyes are on the government as to how it reacts to Manch’s latest demand for a complete ban on the use of glyphosate in India. (IPA Service)

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