Re-approve glyphosate on proper "Precautionary Principle"


I read with some degree of amusement the opinion piece by Dr. Saroj Jayasinghe and a colleague, where they urge to continue the ban on glyphosate which is a class-II hazard (but not a heath risk) according to the WHO, with no mention of the harm done to poor people by the ban. Glyphosate may technically cause cancer if very large amounts are taken according to the WHO. Dr. Jayasinghe and colleague do not mention that the WHO and the FAO also state that even an intake of some 60 mg per day by a person of 60 kilos (i.e., 12 tea-spoons per day) could be tolerated, even from the point of view of chronic toxicity! Human societies routinely handle far more toxic and environmentally harmful substances like pharmaceuticals, petrol, kerosene, alcohol, tobacco, paint, plastics etc., safely and do not ban them, even when they are very dangerous class-I toxins.

The most important point forgotten by the two medics is that glyphosate happens to be a much sought after herbicide of great economic importance. In fact, although the substance was banned by the Sirisena government to return a political favour to Venerable Ratana-JHU and the Natha Deviyo outfit, it is freely available in the black market. A minister (or ex-minister) actually stated on TV (23rd August 2017, the Derana TV programme) that he buys glyphosate in the black market as he does not want to destroy his 30-acre tea estate! When the legality of this was queried by Ven. Ratana, someone asked if it is legal to sell duty-free cars imported by MPs in the black market!

One of the reasons for legalizing a substance like glyphosate having a high social demand is because such substances cannot be banned successfully. People will find ways to get it. On the other hand, once it is in the market LEGALLY, one can ensure that it meets the required safety standards as used the world over. Glyphosate is not even a class-I toxin like red meat, petrol, diesel, alcohol or tobacco. But Dr. Jayasinghe and friends have not pushed hard to ban these class-I toxins, which are extremely dangerous in comparison to glyphosate. In fact, in an email discussion I had with Dr. Jayasinghe, I was amazed to find that he could make statements soft-peddling tobacco smoking, wittingly or unwittingly!

Of course, many societies have tried banning alcohol, tobacco and even meat, but with little success, as such societies soon became victims of Al Capone-Mafia-Kudu Raja types. So, the pressure exerted by Dr. Jayasinghe and others, in the wake of the threats issued by Ven. Ratana to "take the fight to the streets", will only lead to a further enthronement of the black-marketeer. The agricultural minister's cabinet paper was the end result of a democratic process involving wide consultations with technical committees. Typical of ideologues, Ven. Ratana, a man who was not even voted into parliament, has once again used strong-arm tactics to short-circuit the democratic process.

Given that Dr. Saraoj and Dr Herath are medics, the arguments they give for holding on to the ban are amazingly non-scientific and non-medical. That France would like to ban glyphosate in 2020, and that California wants to carry a warning label of its possible cancer threat (but not ban it) are well known to be political decisions. A leading UK doctor from Dr. Jayasinghe's Alma Mater, and the Royal Society have made their views about glyphosate known. The UK wants an approval of Glyphosate without further political review for 10 years. The UK thinks it is a waste of time because the existing periodic review mechanisms are sufficient. Canada, Australia, Japan, China and most other countries also use mere non-politicized technical reviews, unlike the EU, and glyphosate is freely available. It is the farmer who makes the decision about what is best for his farm, and the decision is not imposed by bureaucrats or politicians.

France is just ONE of the 195 countries in the world, and Sri Lanka is the ONLY country that has put in a comprehensive ban, and that too at the beset of the JHU political pressure. The US National Academy of Sciences, the Acadamie Francais, as well as Nobel Laureates have made statements about it. A press release on 4 July 2016, by Nobel Laureates in Science and Medicine, published in the Washington Post on the side of glyphosate and genetic engineering, is ignored by the two doctors in their rush to position themselves with the "Ecolos".

The statements by Dr. Jayasinghe et al about DDT are equally inaccurate, in remaining mired in the Nixonian era when DDT was banned. They should consult the WHO review in 2006 when the WHO re-approved DDT for domestic use against mosquitoes. They should study the very considerable research by the Pasteur Institute in Paris, or at least read the National geographic article

( about the murky of the DDT.

To find out stuff that they did not learn in med school.

The call by the two medics to wait till some new experiments "that will resolve the issue" come out is indeed naive. Complex-systems questions do not get resolved like that. I am told that physics stopped using the concepts of cause and effect already by the 18th century, even for simple systems! As the medics themselves remark, the "cause" of diabetes, or cardio-vascular diseases, or even whether butter is good for you or not, will continue to be debated, while the science will continue to be ignored in politicized milieux like Sri Lanka or the EU.

I urge the government to follow the democratic process and follow the recommendations of the technical committee and remove the ban on glyphosate, and prevent catastrophic consequences to Lanka's agriculture. I urge the government to set a tradition of following technical-committee recommendations instead of giving into political or medical ideologues and street fighters.

I too urge the government to apply the precautionary principle, in that we need to take precautions against toxins being sold in the black market. So, legalize the time-tested product and control it, so that the black-marketeers and the JHU-ideologues do not run this country by (a) false fear-mongering with talks of precautionary principles against a class-II toxin while ignoring class-I toxins, (b) threats of street fights using people brought to Colombo from Trincomalee by Venerable Ratana.


Quebec, Canada

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