With most experts claiming that glyphosate is one of the root causes of the devastating kidney disease epidemic which has caused more than 20,000 deaths in recent years, two Cabinet ministers contradicted each other this week on the glyphosate “ban”. Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake insisted that all imports were stopped forthwith while Agriculture Minister Duminda [...]


Glyphosate ban mired in confusion

Two ministers contradict each other after President orders total ban

With most experts claiming that glyphosate is one of the root causes of the devastating kidney disease epidemic which has caused more than 20,000 deaths in recent years, two Cabinet ministers contradicted each other this week on the glyphosate “ban”.
Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake insisted that all imports were stopped forthwith while Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake said the herbicide would still be permitted in controlled amounts for tea estates.On May 22, President Maithripala Sirisena announced at a public function that the import and the use of glyphosate were banned “with immediate effect”.
However, the relevant regulation has not been promulgated at the time of going to press. There is also no legal amendment to give effect to a total ban.

This means the Department of Customs has no authority to stop the release of glyphosate being shipped into the country. “We have not received a gazette notification regarding a ban,” said Customs Legal Affairs Director Leslie Gamini. “Glyphosate is imported by private companies which have it cleared through the port. If there is no special order banning glyphosate, we have to release the containers.”

This was backed up by other Customs Department sources. If there were any consignments of glyphosate still in the port, they said, it was probably due to a delay by private companies in having them cleared and not due to any “detention”.
The Import Export Control Department substantiated that there was no regulation banning glyphosate. But a senior official said the Registrar of Pesticides had instructed the department in writing not to issue licences for fresh glyphosate imports. This would be complied with, he said, requesting anonymity.

Pesticides Registrar Anura Wijesekara has also notified agrochemical importers that glyphosate licensing has stopped. As such, they cannot open Letters of Credit (LOC) for future consignments. Attempts to contact the top management of Sri Lanka’s main agrochemical companies failed. Email inquiries were not even acknowledged.

Dr. Wijesekara also clarified, however, that restricted amounts of glyphosate would be allowed into Sri Lanka for use in tea estates. “We have not banned it totally,” he said. Minister Dissanayake confirmed this. He said the use of glyphosate would be prohibited in vegetable and paddy cultivation from the next Maha season which starts in October. It was too late to apply the ban to the current cycle as the window for herbicide application was now closed.

However, the Government proposes to allow continued use of glyphosate in tea estates where vast numbers of workers would otherwise be needed for manual weeding. But distribution will no longer be through the private sector.“The idea is for the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation to import the glyphosate and for the Ministry of Plantations to distribute it to tea plantations,” Minister Dissanayake told the Sunday Times. “The Plantations Ministry must make sure that it does not leak out to other sectors. This will require the setting up of an internal mechanism. Plantations will have to state how much herbicide they need.”

If a gazette were to be issued listing glyphosate as banned, the country would not be able to import it for any purpose — including for scientific testing. “We can continue with the same system for the moment,” the minister explained. Any glyphosate stocks that the private sector recently imported or for which LOCs had already been opened would be allowed into the country and diverted to the plantation sector, Mr. Dissanayake said. Recent shipments have been sent for routine laboratory testing to check whether arsenic and cadmium contents were within acceptable levels.

“Once cleared, these stocks will be released,” he said. “We think the amounts are sufficient for use in the tea estates for the next two years.” Around four million litres of glyphosate were imported to Sri Lanka in 2014. This was reduced to three million litres this year, the Minister said. The amounts would drop further once the prohibition in the paddy and vegetable sectors comes into effect.

Mr. Dissanayake admitted that a limited ban on the use and sale of the herbicide imposed in December 2014 in certain areas — including Anuradhpura, Polonnaruwa, Kurunegala, Moneragala — was not effective. “When it is banned in Anuradhapura, the farmers get it from Dambulla,” he said. The herbicide was sold at black market rates as a result.

The Agriculture Ministry has drawn up a Cabinet paper containing these proposals and forwarded it to the Finance Ministry for comment, officials said. But Finance Minister Karunanayake denied outright that the Government intended to allow smaller amounts of glyphosate imports into the country in future.

“Glyphosate is not to be imported,” he told the Sunday Times. “Anything that comes is to be destroyed or re-exported. That is what the President and the Cabinet decided.” He also claimed that a controversial consignment of glyphosate that was said to have arrived after the “ban” was announced had “not gone out of the port”.

“The shipment is in the port,” Mr Karunanayake said. “Forty or fifty or whatever number of containers, they will not be allowed to come out of the port.” This contradicted what the Customs Department said. The Minister added that he had written to the Import Export Control Department with instructions to stop issuing licences because he was the relevant line Minister. He maintained that a gazette notification was not required to formalise the ban which he said could be implemented through “administrative action”.

It is not immediately clear which Minister’s word will prevail in coming weeks. It is also uncertain whether President Sirisena will keep his pledge to implement a full ban despite concerns in the plantation sector. A third ministry has also been brought into the equation by proposing that the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, which has no stake in fertiliser, take charge of future glyphosate imports.

It’s carcinogenic, says WHO
The World Health Organisation’s specialised cancer agency has classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
In a report issued in March this year, the WHO says the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) conducted research into the carcinogenicity of five pesticides. The herbicide glyphosate and the insecticides malathion and diazinon were classified “as probably carcinogenic to humans under the Group 2A category”.

Glyphosate currently has the highest global production volume of all herbicides, the IARC report states. The largest use worldwide is in agriculture. The IARC reveals that the herbicide is also used in forestry, urban, and home applications. “Glyphosate has been detected in the air during spraying in water, and in food,” it states. “The general population is exposed primarily through residence near sprayed areas, home use, and diet, and the level that has been observed is generally low.”The Group 2A category is used “when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals”, the report says.

Channa Jayasumana, a doctor at the Medical Faculty of the Rajarata University, led two studies on glyphosate. “Glyphosate was found in several paddy cultivating areas of the country,” he said. “We have enough scientific evidence to say that glyphosate is linked to cancer and chronic kidney disease (CKD).”

Commenting on the effects of restricting the herbicide to tea plantations, Dr Jayasumana said the threat of glyphosate in such areas was that the chemical could make its way into the Mahaweli River. However, there was little chance of ground water contamination as the local water had less mineral content and discouraged mixing of glyphosate.

“We appreciate the phasing out of glyphosate but how can it be assured that this herbicide will not be available in the black market?” he asked. He said paddy and tea had been cultivated in Sri Lanka for centuries without agrochemicals. A pilot project to grow 14,000 acres of paddy without chemicals proved a success.

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