It’s official: Glyphosate import is banned
The Finance Ministry has promulgated regulations banning the import of glyphosate, allowing the Customs Department to destroy or re-export any new consignments that arrive in the country.
The gazette notification, signed by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake and dated June 11, 2015, is issued under the Import and Export (Control) Act. “We can confiscate consignments of glyphosate and re-export or destroy them,” Customs Director Leslie Gamini said. “But as we do not usually destroy chemicals inside the country, it is more likely that the containers will be returned.”
President Maithripala Sirisena announced last month that glyphosate will be banned forthwith from the country over fears that it was causing chronic kidney disease in the North Central Province. The Government subsequently released a Cabinet decision titled, “Limitation of the import of Glyphosate pesticide and usage”.
It stated, “The scientists who carry out research on renal diseases prevailing in many parts of the country have pointed out that the use of pesticides, weedicides and chemical fertiliser could be contributing to this situation.”
“Accordingly, the Government has already banned the import and usage of 4 identified chemical fertiliser and pesticides,” it said. “In addition to this, the Hon. President Maithripala Sirisena has decided to totally ban the import and usage of Glyphosate pesticide. The Cabinet of Ministers approved this decision taken by the President.”
But the National Academy of Sciences of Sri Lanka said in a statement this week that it was not aware of “any scientific evidence from studies in Sri Lanka or abroad showing that CKDu (Chronic Kidney Disease of Uncertain Etiology) is caused by glyphosate.”
“The very limited information available on glyphosate in Sri Lanka does not show that levels of glyphosate in drinking water in CKDu affected areas (North Central Province) are above the international standards set for safety,” NASSL President Vijaya Kumar said. “CKDu is rarely reported among farmers in neighbouring areas such as Ampara, Puttalam and Jaffna or even the wet zone, where glyphosate is used to similar extent.”
“It has also not been reported in tea growing areas where glyphosate is far more intensively used,” Prof. Kumar continued. “Therefore the scientific data are lacking to support the contention that glyphosate is the cause of CKDu in the NCP.”
The NASSL, an academic body incorporated by Parliament, has been evaluating available scientific evidence on CKDu and states that “there is still no evidence to pinpoint any particular causative agent.”
“Agrochemicals including glyphosate, flouride, arsenic, cadmium, hardness of water and high ionicity have been suggested but at present all these are hypotheses and research is still not conclusive,” Prof. Kumar pointed out.
While the Government’s decision seems to have been triggered by a recent World Health Organisation announcement that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”, it is important to note that CKDu patients do not show signs of cancer, he said.
Another group of researchers maintains, however, that there are clear links between glyphosate and CKDu and have long urged the Government to ban the weedicide. They include Channa Jayasumana, a doctor at the Medical Faculty of the Rajarata University. He led two studies on glyphosate. “Glyphosate was found in several paddy cultivating areas of the country,” he claimed. “We have enough scientific evidence to say that glyphosate is linked to cancer and chronic kidney disease (CKD).”
There was uncertainty in the Agriculture Ministry about how the glyphosate ban would now affect sectors that come under its purview. Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake earlier told the Sunday Times that there would not be a complete ban of glyphosate. Instead, the chemical would be issued in controlled amounts to tea plantations. He also said it would be completely prohibited in vegetable and paddy cultivation from the Maha season that starts in October.
However, Minister Karunanayake, under whose sway the Department of Import and Export Control falls, insisted that glyphosate would be banned on a decision taken jointly by the President, the Prime Minister and Cabinet. He said there was no agreement to allow its import in limited amounts.
The estate sector has asked to keep using glyphosate on the basis that it would be too costly to weed vast acres of plantations manually. “The President has ordered a ban on glyphosate,” said Deputy Agriculture Minister Anoma Gamage. “Minister Karunanayake has also said there would be no imports of glyphosate. At the same time, there is a requirement in the country for glyphosate. I don’t know how soon we can get this sorted out.”
Ms. Gamage said further clarification on the status quo could only be had once Minister Dissanayake returned from a visit overseas.