Advt sparks major clash between pesticide makers and green activists

The pro-pesticide advertorial was apparently provoked by the government's move to ban 27 pesticides

pesticide
Glyphosate use in India is estimated at around 700 tonnes and major manufacturers include Bayer, Rallis and Sumitomo | Representative Photo: iStock

A full-scale war has broken out between the proponents and opponents of pesticides and herbicides, including glyphosate, following an advertorial carried by a business newspaper.

The Business Standard newspaper on Wednesday (July 29) carried a full page advertorial in all its editions, by the Crop Care Federation of India, an umbrella group of pesticide manufacturers.

The pro-pesticide advertorial was apparently provoked by the central government’s move to ban 27 pesticides and regulate the use of a herbicide, glyphosate, used extensively across the country.

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With only a few days left for objections to be submitted to the government, the federation, through the advertorial, vented its anger at anti-pesticide and herbicide activists who have for long opposed their usage, claiming that the chemicals ruin the environment and cause serious physical ailments.

The federation, a lobby group of pesticide makers, in the advertorial, made specific allegations against a group of environmental activists by name, charging them with using foreign funds to spread “scary stories and negative narratives” about the practices in Indian agriculture.

Responding to the charges, one of the targeted activists, Kavita Kuruganti, aimed her anger at the newspaper for carrying the advertorial, which, she claimed, had “compromised” its very own code of conduct. She further charged the advertorial of “slander and defamation,” and demanded corrective action.

The newspaper issued a correction in its front page on June 30, where it “regretted the publication of the allegations and disassociated itself from them.” However, Ms Kuruganti was not satisfied with the response and demanded that the newspaper return the revenue earned from the advertorial and admit it had gone against its own code of conduct.

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Ms Kuruganti challenged the federation to prove their charges that she had received foreign funds, claiming that her organisation, the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), only depended on crowdfunding and even that only for specific events. The activist also reserved her right to take any other legal action as she deemed fit.

While it is to be seen how the newspaper will respond to the activist’s demands, the high-decibel spat reflects a deep divide between the powerful pesticide lobby and the equally vocal environmental activists.

The union government on July 8 had published a draft notification that made it mandatory for the Pest Control Operators (PCO) alone to use the herbicide glyphosate. It gave a 30 day period for any objection or suggestion to the notification, issued at the behest of the Kerala government. It will come into effect after the final notification once all the objections and suggestions have come in.

At present, glyphosate can be used by any farm worker. But once the new order comes into force, only PCOs will be able to use it. Glyphosate makers say, given the size of the country and the widespread use of the herbicide, it would be next to impossible to use it as it is not physically possible to ensure PCOs everywhere. Its usage will drastically come down, they fear.

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Not just that, the draft notification states that existing PCOs must return their certificates, which will be returned to them after incorporating the changes in the new order. For example, the revised certificates will clearly state that only PCOs can use glyphosates.

Ironically, activists too are not exactly happy with the notification as reports quoting them say that the government’s regulation cannot be physically monitored with the result that the usage of glyphosate may, for all practical purposes, continue as before.

The herbicide, in use for the last four decades, is among nearly 40 agrochemicals used in tea plantations and elsewhere. According to reports, herbicide use has been on the upswing across the country to help protect crops from weeds that are parasitical in nature and drain out the nutrients from standing crops.

But activists warn that glyphosates can cause cancer and quote an out-of-court settlement in the United States, where Bayer had reached a $10.9 billion settlement with users of its Roundup herbicide (whose main ingredient is glyphosate), who said they had developed blood cancer.

Glyphosate use in India is estimated at around 700 tonnes and major manufacturers include Bayer, Rallis and Sumitomo.

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