03/12/2016 5:34 PM IST | Updated 14/12/2016 12:16 PM IST

The Government Is Right To Phase Out Pesticides Like Endosulfan And Phorate

Some time ago, I had written an article about pesticides, and the potential damage to health that some of them can cause. After some more reading, I've come across a few that I felt I should deal with in more detail. One of those is phorate, a pesticide that is extremely toxic. Phorate is an organophosphate. It is a pale yellow liquid under normal conditions, but is usually applied in granular form. It is used on crops such as corn, coffee, etc.

A study on the effects of pesticides noted that organophosphates affect the nervous system by disrupting the enzyme that regulates acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters play an important role in shaping our daily lives and functions.

A 1996 report by Extoxnet noted that phorate is extremely toxic and in the USA, labels of products that contain phorate must have a "Danger—Poison" warning. I am not sure whether the same rule applies in India, but based on what I've learned, I sincerely hope it does. The same report stated that effects of phorate exposure range from numbness and headaches to unconsciousness, convulsions and death.

The ideal solution would be for people to consume organic produce. However, until this becomes affordable for the common citizen, at least the known toxins should be banned.

In 2016, the Hindureported that the Anupam Verma Committee was set up by Parliament to review the use of 66 pesticides whose use is restricted or banned abroad, but are used in India. The Committee recommended that phorate be phased out by 2020, terming it "moderately hazardous."

Another pesticide, whose use has raised more than a few eyebrows, is endosulfan. Endosulfan is chlorinated hydrocarbon, which acts as a poison on a large number of insects and mites on contact. Like phorate, products in the USA containing endosulfan must carry a "Danger—Poison" warning.

The effects of endosulfan on humans can be seen from a report by the Kerala government on the Kasaragod tragedy, and the consequent rehabilitation efforts, published by the Centre for Science and Environment. Endosulfan was sprayed thrice a year on the cashew plantations from 1978-2001. Deformed limbs and stunted growth were observed as early as 1979 in calves, and by the 1990s, humans, especially children, were visibly affected. The report states that kids were born with congenital anomalies, mental retardation, physical deformities, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, hydrocephalus, among other conditions.

A 2003 paper recommended that, due to its toxicity to humans, endosulfan's use be restricted or banned. In 2011, the Supreme Court banned the production, sale and use of endosulfan for eight weeks, and in 2014, the government agreed to phase it out by 2017.

Given the toxicity of endosulfan and phorate, I believe that the government is definitely doing the right thing by phasing them out. People should not be exposed to such safety hazards. The ideal solution would, of course, be for people to consume organic produce. However, until organic food becomes affordable for the common citizen, at least the known toxins should be banned.