The Chronic Kidney Disease and Chronic Prognoses


Mr Bodhi Danapala (BD) should be congratulated for his well articulated rejoinder in The Island’s Opinion Column of !st March in response to the previous day’s proclamations of Dr Channa Jayamsumana (CJ)and Dr Navin de Soyza of the General Committee of the GMOA, reported in The Island news paper, that the cause of the chronic kidney disease (CKD) is now known to be glyphosate, a widely used herbicide. CKD is a highly sensitive subject and its etiology is hitherto not fully understood. Any public pronouncement on its etiology must be based on sound scientific evidence and not on conjecture that can mislead the public..

Be that as it may, let us come to the crux of the matter. As also pointed out by BD, in an open access article By CJ et al in the Int.J.Environ.Res.Public Health: 2014, 11,2125-2147 titled "Glyphosate, hard water and nephrotoxic metals: Are they the culprits behind the epidemic of chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology in Sri Lanka?", it is hypothesized that metal complexes with glyphosate is the cause of CKD. The word "hypothesis" is printed at the very title of the paper. So how can the authors claim to have found the cause if it is yet a hypothesis! To quote from the article: "Although glyphosate alone does not cause an epidemic of the CKD it seems to have acquired the ability to destroy renal tissues of thousands of farmers when it forms complexes with hard water and nephrotoxic metals". It goes on to say that glyphosate chelates with calcium and other metals in the hard water to become the causative agent of CKD. Basic chemistry tells us that metal complexes/chelates of glyphosate should be far less soluble than glyphosate alone, hence rendering it less absorbable by living organisms. In other words, glyphosate should be less toxic to living organisms in hard water than in soft water. It should have been preferable if these researchers had presented at least some analytical evidence to support their hypothesis. Did they analyze any samples of water from CKDU affected areas before hypothesizing? We know that glyphosate complexes do not render themselves to easy analysis, but at least glyphosate levels in non-hard water samples from water sources in the areas should have been indicative of the chemical levels in the region. For example, other countries have such analytical data based on which US and EU has established glyphosate allowable limits as 0.7 and 0.2 ppm respectively in drinking water.

. On earlier occasions too (The Island of 1st January 2014 and the The Island of 3rd February 2014) there were news items in its front page that CJ, with the assistance of the GMOA was going to ask the government to institute legal action against multinational agrochemical companies to claim damages to the tune of a million US dollars per CKD patient . Is there adequate evidence to do so? There is now a news item doing the email rounds that Monsanto’s glyphosate is the culprit for the kidney disease. An always vociferous cabinet minister remarked over the Derana news channel the other day, that the Monsanto Company is poisoning our farmers with toxic fertilizer (‘visa pora’)! He is not even aware that the matter relates to herbicide and not fertilizer. Misinformation spreads fast with disastrous repercussions. There are now perhaps two dozen companies, many of them in China , manufacturing glyphosate. Are they all to be sued?

Glyphosate (often referred to as Roundup by most users, the trade name given by its inventing company, Monsanto) is a very effective broad spectrum weed killer, very widely used the world over. Glyphosate and its degradation products were reported to be more environmentally benign than most other herbicides. Its advantage is that it is inactivated in the soil by being bound to soil particles, and is eventually broken down by microbes. Hence it is not available to plants through the soil. Its median half life in the soil is reported to be 47 days and in water, it varies from a few days to some three months, depending on the environment. Erosion and run off can carry glyphosate-bound soil particles into water bodies, and settling down as silt. However, glyphosate may be toxic to living organisms at some dosages and in some environments. . No pesticide, for that matter, is absolutely safe. Much depends on their judicious and proper use

In a further newspaper report, CJ had pointed out that glyphosate is widely used in paddy farming. On the other hand, the plantations crop sector, afflicted with acute labour shortages, uses glyphosate far more intensively for weed management. Its benefits vis a vis risks should, therefore, be thoroughly considered, if any decision on its future availability is to be made. Modern agriculture is obligatory on agrochemicals, despite their attendant evils, to produce the world’s food demand. Much touted alternative technologies such as organic farming has yet only about 8% of the total global agricultural land under it of which some 60% is said to be under pastures! Far more research is needed to develop safer pesticides and alternative agro-technologies with minimal pesticide use. There is no evidence that our research institutions are addressing these matters resolutely. The Department of Agriculture (Registrar of Pesticides) and the Central Environmental Authority should, as a matter of highest priority, analyze, at least the water bodies in the Rajarata for glyphosate and other commonly used pesticides and educate the public and policy makers. There is apparently going to be a CKDU Project under a ministry. Any biased officials at its helm could mislead gullible politicians with disastrous consequences.

Dr U P de S Waidyanatha

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