Glyphosate Menace are we safe?

Published : 9:48 am  June 17, 2015 | No comments so far |  | 


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Now that it has been established that the weedicide glyphosate was linked to chronic kidney disease, the Government issued a gazette notification last week banning all glyphosate imports. However,  it was found that 15 containers of glyphosate were imported last month by private companies and stored in their warehouses. According to the Registrar of Pesticides, the imported consignment will be sufficient for the tea plantation sector for one year.

Speaking to  , Registrar of Pesticides Dr. Anura Wijesekera said that as the stocks were imported before the ban, they have not made a decision as to what should be done and are currently carrying out discussions with the ministry. He further said that instructions have been given to seize all available stocks of glyphosate in the market.

The Minister of Agriculture could not be contacted as he  was out of the country. However, Deputy Minister Anoma Gamage said that they were carrying out discussions as to what should be done and would make a decision once the minister returns.

As the stocks were imported before the ban, they have not made a  decision as to what should be done and are currently carrying out  discussions with the ministry.

Meanwhile the toxicologist at the Medical Faculty of the Rajarata University Dr. Channa Jayasumana said that according to a gazette notification issued last December, glyphosate was banned only in three divisional secretariats in Badulla and the four districts of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kurunegala and Moneragala. 

According to the existing law, the Ministry of Agriculture cannot ban the sale of glyphosate outside these four districts.  We need to question what will happen to the existing stocks that are being stored in warehouses of private companies. The Government needs to issue another gazette notification declaring an islandwide ban on the usage of glyphosate,” he said.

Explaining the effects of glyphosate, Dr. Jayasumana said that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the chemical to be a possible carcinogen that may also have links to the alteration of hormones and chronic neurological impairments.


Is there glyphosate in tea?

With much speculation going on about the presence of glyphosate in tea, environmentalist Hemantha Vithanage said that a parliamentary sub-committee was appointed to look into it. However he said that there was no research of its presence in consumed tea as there aren’t any facilities in the country to carry out the relevant tests.

Commenting on the absence of data in the country, Dr. Jayasumana said that the process was very expensive as samples of glyphosate would have to be sent abroad for testing.  “It will cost 100 sterling pounds to test one sample of glyphosate which is very expensive. However the pesticide registrar’s office recently received a machine to carry out these tests. But it was reported that the machine did not work. A separate inquiry needs to be carried out on this,” he said. Meanwhile Director of the Tea Research Institute (TRI) Dr. Sarath Abeysinghe said that glyphosate has been used to remove the weeds in tea plants for the past 25 years and up to now they have not exceeded the residue limit in consumed tea.

“We export tea to the world market. Our exported tea is monitored, especially in Japan and countries in the European Union (EU). Levels of glyphosate are also tested. Up to now our tea has not exceeded the levels of glyphosphate set according to international standards,” he said.

tea3He explained that glyphosate was used to remove weeds only at the grass root level and even though there is a possibility of residues being deposited on the tea leaves and absorbed by the roots, that would be in minimal quantities. “The TRI has issued certain guidelines and regulations to see that the presence of glyphosate is minimized and that there should not be any residue in drinking tea.  Certain technical requirements have also been set on how glyphosate needs to be used on the weeds of plants. For instance glyphosate can be sprayed only twice a year. If tea cultivators follow our guidelines there should be no glyphosate residues in drinking tea,” he said.

Speaking of alternatives Dr. Abeysinghe said that they would either have to resort to methods used in the past or opt for other weedicides, both of which are very expensive. “Tea in Sri Lanka has the highest production cost. If weeding is to be done manually this would increase costs further. Also, it is not practical to carry out manual weeding twice a year with the available labour force. There are alternative chemicals that can be used. But all of them are more expensive than glyphosate.

Glyphosate is the cheapest, most effective and safest chemical to use as a weed remover in plants when compared to other chemicals,” he said. Dr. Abeysinghe further said that the Government has not given any instruction as to what should be done with the existing stock of glyphosate. “At the moment only imports have been banned, not the usage of the existing stock. Discussions are being held to look into an alternative,” he said.