Category Archives: Health

How many more will fall ill or die because of exposure to pesticides and herbicides?

Last year Richard Bruce, who has suffered severely for many years following exposure to pesticides in the course of his work, sent news of research into links between diabetes and exposure to organophosphate, the most frequently and largely applied insecticide in the world, undertaken by a team from Madurai Kamaraj University, published in Genome Biology. It is accessible to all readers and may be accessed here.

He now draws attention to the Hindu’s report of a food poisoning incident in Navi Mumbai which led to the death of three children and 40 people falling ill (200 according to the Hindustan Times).

Dr. Ajit Gawli, Raigad district civil surgeon, said “The serum test reports of two patients indicated presence of organophosphate compound in the food. The cholinesterase enzyme level was found to be around 800, which ideally should be around 1,200. It does confirm the presence of organophosphate compound found in insecticides and pesticides. After the reports of the serum of the deceased come in, we can confirm the saturation of the compound and what exactly the chemical was.” The food samples have been sent to a forensic science laboratory at Kalina and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for further analysis.”

An American campaign

Richard earlier sent news of a press release issued from Portland, Oregon, by the Center for Biological Diversity, a national, non-profit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

It reported that group of farmworkers, child-safety and environmental advocates sent a letter to the government’s Environmental Protection Agency urging it to ban seven organophosphate pesticides, currently under review, that are used on crops such as corn, cotton, watermelon and wheat. It was submitted in response to the EPA’s request for public comments on new releases of human-health and ecological risk assessments for organophosphate insecticides.

“Every spring season, children around the U.S. are facing low-dose exposure to this dangerous chemical,” says a Minnesota mother who was sickened, along with her infant son, by chlorpyrifos. “It is in the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat,” she adds. “By leaving this chemical on the market, we are gambling with the lives of children. It is stealing their futures from them and increasing the amount of health care dollars they will need for treatment.”

Chemical & Engineering News reported that no ban was imposed; there was ‘pushback’ from Dow Sciences and others in the chemical industry.

Leonardo Trasande, an internationally renowned authority on children’s environmental health, in a study published in 2017 writes:

“A regulatory ban was proposed, but actions to end the use of one such pesticide, chlorpyrifos, in agriculture were recently stopped by the Environmental Protection Agency under false scientific pretenses”.

“Strong evidence now supports the notion that organophosphate pesticides damage the fetal brain and produce cognitive and behavioral dysfunction through multiple mechanisms, including thyroid disruption.

 

 

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India’s solar energy development – 1

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The Financial Times reports that the winning bid for the third and fourth phase development at Bhadla solar park in Rajasthan – a 500-megawatt solar farm – was one of the lowest prices for solar power ever seen anywhere in the world. The companies — Acme Solar, an Indian developer, and SBG Cleantech, a joint venture whose shareholders include SoftBank of Japan — said they would build the project for a guaranteed price of just Rs2.44 ($0.04) for every unit of electricity they eventually sold – substantially cheaper than coal.

The Bhadla auction confirmed that the country is undergoing a generational shift from coal-fuelled power to solar and wind and placed India at the centre of a global renewables revolution that is driving down the cost of green energy and which represents one of the biggest threats to fossil fuels.

As India is already the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter and plans to electrify even its most remote villages within two years, a rapid expansion in the country’s renewables sector would prove a huge boost for attempts to keep global temperature rises below 2C — the target set by the 2015 Paris climate accords.

Masayoshi Son, founder of SoftBank, has said he plans to invest $20bn in the Indian solar power industry. (The other investors are Taiwan’s Foxconn and Indian company Bharti.)

In 2015, the government of Narendra Modi set ambitious targets for building new renewable power. By 2022, explained the finance minister Arun Jaitley, India would build 175 gigawatts of new renewable power, of which 100 gigawatts would come from solar.

The solar plans alone are equivalent to 25 large nuclear plants

Manoj Kumar Upadhyay, the founder and chairman of Acme, one of a handful of companies competing for solar projects against many established Indian and multinational conglomerates suggests there are good reasons the price of solar power in India is so low.

In addition to its strong and reliable sunlight, the price of Chinese-made solar panels has tumbled in the past few years as a manufacturing boom has created over-supply.  Moreover, India’s notoriously high cost of capital has been reduced by strong government involvement in the solar power sector. At parks like Bhadla, the government acquires the land — removing one of the biggest hurdles in a country where land rights are difficult to negotiate — as well as guaranteeing grid connections and providing payment guarantees should state utilities default.

Six years earlier, India and China had been blamed for “sabotaging” a meaningful deal at the UN climate talks, but Mr Jaitley’s announcement confirmed India was now at the centre of global efforts to develop cheaper renewables and tackle climate change.

 

 

 

 

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Preserve 3500 Aarey trees: select a site suggested by NEERI/IIT advisers

CHS’ founder, the late Winin Pereira, emphasised the importance of trees as sources of food, medicine, wood and fibre – also their role in mitigating air pollution and absorbing and slowing flood waters. He had amassed a large database recording information about India’s trees.

In a well-read article, The Browning of Harit Mumbai, he wrote “The home of my childhood in Bandra was surrounded by a garden about five to six metres wide on three sides and more on the fourth. About ten coconut trees provided us with fresh neera every morning and ripe and tender fruit. Their leaves, husks and shells were used as fuel. There was a jambul, a fig, a jackfruit, a pomegranate, a ramphal, a tamarind, a badam, a breadfruit, a lime, a bor, a kavath, several neem, sitaphal, drumstick, papaya and chiku, four rose-apple, three mango, two guava, and one pear tree – but no partridge”.

There is great public concern about the decision to cut down 3500 trees in the Aarey Colony to make way for car sheds for the new Metro, though experts from National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (Neeri) and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Powai (Mumbai) have suggested Kanjurmarg, Backbay and Kalina as a better option.

There is still time to sign this petition.

120,843 have signed and the organisers want to reach 150,000. They have clearly warned all of the consequences Mumbai will face in terms of flooding and loss of open space & wildlife, if the Metro depot is built in Aarey.

The latest news on Facebook (17.12.17) is of 22-year-old Yash Marwah’s poem on the real meaning of ‘Vikaas’ – of progress and development – that all readers and PM Modi and CM Devendra Fadnavis should hear.

At the end of November it was reported that children and teachers from a Malad west based convent school marched to oppose the civic authority’s decision to destroy Aarey greenery and other natural areas in order to build Metro car sheds.  The journalist commented that it is a government aided school and marching – in effect – against the government is quite a daring move to try to save ‘Aarey Green patch’.

See the video here: http://6dnews.com/school-children-protest-aarey-metro-shed/. Be patient – this is a slow-loading site.

Set aside time for this comprehensive presentation of the subject and its implications by tree-champion Zoru Bhathena. Scroll down to October 15th https://www.facebook.com/zoru.bhathena.

As Winin Pereira wrote decades ago:

“We should prevent the cutting down of trees and plant more of them. Every leaf that grows serves to fix some of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Seeds of herbs, shrubs and trees need to be collected by the million and they should be planted wherever there are a few square centimetres of barren land”. [See Natural versus Formal Forestry”, MPSM, December 1987, NO472]

 

 

 

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The forgotten foods: 1,582 food species displayed at an Adivasi Food Festival held at Munda village (Rayagada district, Orissa)

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Devinder Sharma draws attention to a report that fewer crop species are feeding the world than 50 years ago – raising concerns about the resilience of the global food system, as a study in the journal PNAS has shown.

The authors warned a loss of diversity meant more people were dependent on key crops, leaving them more exposed to harvest failures. Higher consumption of energy-dense crops could also contribute to a global rise in heart disease and diabetes, they added. “Over the past 50 years, we are seeing that diets around the world are changing and they are becoming more similar – what we call the ‘globalised diet’,” co-author Colin Khoury, a scientist from the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture, said.” The diet is composed of big, major crops such as wheat, rice, potatoes and sugar. It also includes crops that were not important 50 years ago but have become very important now, particularly oil crops like soybean,” BBC News reported in Crop diversity decline ‘threatens food security’

Devinder writes:

Well, this report is among the several others which have highlighted the threat food security as well as nutrition security faces from the ‘globalised diet’.

We are all responsible directly or indirectly for this decline. If I were to ask you to count the foods that you eat I bet you will not be able to name more than a few. Wheat, rice, tomato, cucumber, apple, banana … and you begin to reel out the names you know. Not many can name even twenty. Try a little harder, and you will end up probably with another ten. If you are a little more aware, you might struggle with a few more names. That’s it.

That’s how narrow and limited our food sense has come down to. The more we are urbanized, the chances are the less we know about our foods and the rich food culture that prevailed in our country. The disconnect with the huge diversity of food over the ages has actually alienated the modern civilization from the virtues of the vast repository of biological wealth that existed. Modern living has snapped the symbiotic relationship that existed with nature.

Not many know that India is a mega-diversity region with over 51,000 plant species existing, but with hardly a handful being cultivated.

When Laxmi Pidikaka, a tribal woman from southern Odisha explained to me the importance and relevance of each of the 1,582 food species that were displayed at the recently concluded Adivasi Food Festival held at Munda village in Rayagada district, I was left not only amazed with the richness of food around us, but came back with a feeling that how uneducated I was when it came to mankind’s basic requirement of food. Of the 1,582 food species (and that included different kinds of fish, crabs and birds that are part of the daily diet of some tribals), as many as 972 were uncultivated. Yes, you heard it right. Uncultivated foods.

DS: “couldn’t resist licking my fingers after tasting a millet-based cooked food displayed at the Adivasi Food Festival, Bissamcuttak, Odisha, Feb 25, 2014”.

A dozen tribes living in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra had gathered at the Adivasi Food Festival to celebrate their foods, which is basically an appreciation of the traditional food cultures linked to their age-old farming practices providing them nutritional security while protecting and conserving the nature’s bounty. Members from the Kondh, Koya, Didai, Santhal, Juanga, Baiga, Bhil, Pahari Korva, Paudi Bhuiyan and Birhor from more than 300 villages spread across the tribal heartland came to showcase their foods, and also spent the next day discussing how to protect the traditional farming system from the onslaught of the National Food Security Act that aimed at providing them with 5 kg of wheat, rice or millets.

“We don’t need your food security system,” Minati Tuika of Katlipadar village told me. “The more you open ration shops in our villages, the more you force us to abandon our own food security system built by our forefathers so painstakingly over the centuries. Please leave us alone.”

But why was she so angry with what most policy makers and planners see as development? Don’t most educated elite think that tribals are uneducated and uncivilized, and therefore all out efforts must be made to bring them into the mainline?

“Don’t teach us what development is. We conserved and preserved our plants, our soil, our forests, and our rivers over the centuries. Now you want to take these away, and destroy them. And then you call it development.”

Saying this, she hid her face. When I coaxed her to explain to me how the adivasis were living in tandem with the nature, and how the modern system was distancing them from their traditional cultures and the community control over resources, she agreed to first show me some plants that had multiple uses demonstrating the traditional skills of the community which preserved and used them without pushing them into the extinct category.

She showed me the Siali beans. Quite a big sized dry bean whose seeds are eaten after boiling or roasting, the branches are used to make ropes, and the leaves are used to make leaf plates. Kusum Koli leaves are used for fodder, fruits are eaten raw, wood is used as firewood, and oil is extracted from the seeds. The seed oil serves as a mosquito repellent and also treats certain skin diseases. Even the better known Mahua trees (above) have multiple uses. Leaves are used for fodder, flowers are used to make jaggery, liquor and porridge. Flowers are also consumed and often sold in the market, a kind of a curry is made from the fruits besides being used as fodder, and the seed provides cooking oil after extraction. All these are unfortunately classified as uncultivated plants in agricultural parlance, and therefore do not receive any attention.

Debjeet Sarangi of Living Farms, which organized the Adivasi Food festival, says it is aimed at deepening the communitarian ethos of the adivasi society and the shared knowledge systems. The event will highlight their sustainable way of growing food and its relationship with their ecology – land, plants, animals and forests. 

When I asked him whether this exercise didn’t aim at romanticizing the foregone, his response was curt: “That’s where we fault. These people are in complete harmony with their nature. Instead of brushing them as uncivilized, we have to learn from them. Whether we like it or not, the future of the humanity is hidden in these tribal cultures.”

I decided to take a walk to see the range of cooked foods displayed. At the entrance to the event itself participants were served a nutritious welcome drink. Made from ragi millet (right) with a sprinkling of rice grains, the drink was certainly very tasty. Called Mandia jau in the local language, it is actually a ragi gruel. Says Salome Yesudas, a nutritionist from Chennai, “I don’t know why people need to drink colas and other kinds of sodas when you have such healthy drinks available.” Considering that the sale of colas has been on a decline, it will be certainly helpful if someone was to promote Mandia jau. The next time you visit my house, be prepared to taste this exotic drink.

I was at first a little apprehensive at tasting the cooked food displayed. More so, considering that I am a diabetic. But when Salome Yesudas explained to me how most of these food dishes were based on different kinds of millets which are the preferred food for people suffering from lifestyle diseases, I couldn’t control dipping my fingers. Pancakes were made from finger millet (left), foxtail millet, with a little jaggery; cakes from ragi and sesame, and then there were cooked dishes using sorghum, pearl millet, kodo millet, barnyard millet, red rice and with sprinklings of uncultivated fruits and seeds.

Living Farms is now documenting the food recipes and has prepared a nutrition chart detailing the nutrition composition of uncultivated plants. They have also printed posters in English and Oriya on the vast varieties of foods available for a balanced diet, as well as for the summer and winter seasons.

Although the Adivasi Food Festival at Munda was not the first traditional festivals of food that I had visited but what makes me feel encouraged is the efforts being made by some civil society groups to bring back the lost traditions, including the culinary habits.

It also clearly demonstrates that what India needs is not a centralized food security system but a multi-layered decentralized food security system based on the traditional practices in that particular region. Instead of providing the tribal populations with a monthly entitlement of 5 kg of wheat/rice/millets, the focus should be on strengthening the existing food system.

This is only possible if we are able to inculcate a feeling of pride in our traditional systems. The richness of our food culture, which is so intricately linked to the preservation of natural resources, is where it can all begin. I don’t know why our agricultural universities don’t talk about it; I don’t know why our food magazines and food shows never focus on the traditional foods; and I am certainly not surprised why our Planning Commission has no idea as to what the tribal cultures imbibe.

An abridged version of this article appeared in Tehelka, Mar 7, 2014. Issue 11 Vol 11
The Culture of Eating Right

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One of the comments:

Shubhangi Sinha

Absolutely an eye opener!  I am an agriculture graduate and working in Crop Protection industry all the work concerns only 10-12 major crops across India. Rice/Wheat/Maize being the most important ones .. Even fruits and vegetables that are cultivated predominantly are limited. We need to explore our rich food culture and adopt them, also since majority of population is suffering from Lifestyle diseases. Good write up!

 

 

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Professor Moseley’s recent rebuttal of the decades-long assertions that GMOs will solve the problem of world hunger – 2

Moseley reminds readers that the policy of food self-sufficiency of the previous era, of producing as much food within the borders of your country as possible, fell out of fashion as it was thought to be costly and inefficient. Global food prices were relatively low and stable in the 1980s and 1990s. Countries might produce some of their own food, but also trade for what they needed by exporting commodities.

This all began to change in the mid-2000s, and especially after 2007—2008, when food prices jumped globally by 50%, continuing to 2011-2012 (below). These price shocks created social unrest in some cases, and political leaders began once again to push for higher food production (Moseley and others 2010).

Only one section of the crowd protesting in Morocco (2011)

Moseley asks: will the use of GM seeds improve access to food by the poorest of the poor, either by improving their incomes or helping them produce more of their own food?

He answers: “Sadly, no. The most widely used GM crops today are controlled by corporate interests and their cost tends to put them out of reach of the truly poor. New seeds must also be repurchased every one to three years, making this a recurring expense”.

Whilst agreeing that  there are potential benefits associated with GM crops, and that GM crops may make sense as a strategy for wealthier farmers to increase yields and production, he refers to growing concerns about gene escape from herbicide-resistant crops to other crops and weeds (Chapman and Burke 2006) which have led many farmers in the North to question the efficacy of GM crops (Hakim 2016).

Pesticide resistance also was predicted in 1999 and has been observed in recent years

In 1999 the BBC reported that results of research at the University of Arizona, into the breeding cycle of the pink bollworm moth, a common pest of cotton, suggested that the bollworm could rapidly become resistant to the insecticide produced within a GM cotton plant called “Bt cotton”, developed by Monsanto.

Following several reports of infestation in earlier years, this month India’s Business Standard reported that GM cotton crops have come under severe pest attacks; a substantial area from whitefly attack in Punjab and Haryana and the pink bollworm in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

Moseley believes that agroecological approaches which help the poorest farmers to improve production and avoid unnecessary financial risk may hold some promise. They may be able to improve yields and manage pest problems through improved intercropping and agroforestry combinations, as well as more tightly integrated crop and livestock systems.

Though, as he acknowledges, these practices have long existed within traditional farming systems in the tropics, he believes that there is enormous potential for scientists to collaborate with local people to make improvements to these techniques.

Funding for work in this area has been limited, as agroecological approaches are unlikely to generate a financial return to justify or even recoup such investment and the returns in terms of human and environmental health are not quantified in their cost-benefit calculations.

But people’s research still goes ahead as part of their daily life, undeterred by lack of funding, see earlier work by Winin Pereira. In this early book (right), he says, in similar vein to Moseley, “Revitalising peoples’ science . . . its preservation and restoration appears to be the only way to rebuild a sustainable society”.

Recent reporting from Devinder Sharma relates many initiatives in different parts of the country. He wrote about the work of Ishwarappa Bankar of Hire Yadachi village of Haveri district in Karnataka (left), who has created a seed bank of traditional millet strains at his home.

Another memorable account comes from Fran Wilde (Action Village India), who forwarded an account of women’s collective farming in Kerala to us recently. Devinder Sharma and his friend and colleague from Kerala confirmed the success of this cheering initiative.

 

 

 

 

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“The push for GM mustard is coming from the commercial food industry, not from the kitchens of ordinary Indian homes”

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As the Indian government considers approving the commercial cultivation of GM mustard, the Hindu reports that an alliance of biologists and activists have warned that such a move would be ill-advised.

A threat to seed diversity

Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), said that GM mustard threatened the seed diversity of indigenous mustard.

She told a panel here at Anna University: “The push for GM is coming from the commercial food industry, not from the kitchens of ordinary Indian homes”.

India can produce all mustard needed

She added that India produces sufficient mustard to meet its consumption requirements and the claim that GM mustard will reduce dependence on mustard oil imports is baseless.

Implications for health and safety of its consumers

Dr. Sultan Ahmed Ismail, a soil biologist, said that herbicides sprayed on the crop to kill weeds were potentially carcinogenic.

Live Law, a legal news portal, ‘set to redefine the standards of legal journalism in India’ reports that – in a letter addressed to the Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate – Public Interest Advocate Prashant Bhushan has set out his opposition to the commercial release of GM Mustard, one of several grounds being that the government itself admits that there’s no evidence that GM mustard will increase yields.

These organisations are amongst over 100 organisations representing farmer unions, trade unions, civil society groups, and political parties, who are urging the government not to release GM mustard.

They say the farmers’ problem is not the production of mustard but the unfair market prices.

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For more information there are links on our 2016 mailing on this subject.

 

 

 

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Farmers have been subsidising the nation

So says Devinder Sharma, in India’s APN News, a respected and widely watched news channel:

“The economic crisis farmers are facing is compounded by the denial of a rightful income to farmers for their produce. To keep food inflation under control it is the farmers who have paid the price. What we don’t realize is that it is the farmers who have been subsidising the nation all these years.

“Farmers are in distress throughout the country, be it in Karnataka, Punjab, Maharashtra or UP. Why has the situation reached these extreme levels and what can be done to reverse this trend?

“The Economic Survey 2016 had clearly pointed to the severity of the prevailing agrarian crisis. Accordingly, the average annual income of a farm family in 17 states of India is a paltry Rs 20,000. This means that the average monthly income for a farm household in these 17 states is less than Rs 1,700.

Most of us who live in cities have a monthly mobile bill exceeding this

I shudder to think how farmers survive with such meagre income . . . I thought this revelation alone should have shocked the country and forced policy planners to undertake immediate steps to address the grave tragedy. But unfortunately, nothing of that sort happened.

And, as in UK: “Our planners can’t think beyond what is prescribed in textbooks. Increasing crop productivity, expanding irrigation and reducing the cost of production as the way forward . . .” (see next week’s post here)

There is a high rate of suicide in the farming communities of India and UK, compared with other occupational groups.  Over the past 21 years, India’s National Crime Record Bureau reports that more than 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide. In secretive England such records are out of date or confined to abstruse medical journals, giving the public to assume that all is well.

Sharma emphasises that the burden food producers carry is not one of low productivity but the lack of a fair price providing an assured farm income and this is true in both countries.

Farmers from the southern state of Tamil Nadu display skulls, who they claim are the remains of Tamil farmers who have committed suicide, during a protest demanding a drought-relief package from the federal government, in New Delhi, India March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/variety/2017/03/23/Why-Indian-farmers-brought-human-skulls-to-this-protest-.html

In both countries already affluent middlemen in retail, packaging and transport or speculating in food futures have prospered while those who actually work and produce food – in particular fresh milk, fruit and vegetables – are denied a fair price covering production and living costs.

 

 

 

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