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Cancer may lurk in pulses we eat

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After the introduction of Genetically Modified (GM) Roundup Ready crops in 1996, which were engineered to tolerate Roundup herbicide, the use of glyphosate has increased manifold.

 

By Debapriya Mukherjee

Common citizens often do not have access to healthy food as they are contaminated with residual herbicides like glyphosate and other residual pesticides and hormones. Among all of them, glyphosate sold by Bayer as Roundup is the world’s most widely used agrochemical globally with 9.4 million MT already sprayed.

After the introduction of Genetically Modified (GM) Roundup Ready crops in 1996, which were engineered to tolerate Roundup herbicide, the use of glyphosate has increased manifold. In India, farmers spray glyphosate in harvested fields and burn residue to make the fields ready for the next planting of paddy as manual weeding is expensive.

Glyphosate does the job quickly. It is a total weedicide and kills grasses and hardy plants that have deep roots as it enters the leaves and goes to the roots through the stem. It acts by blocking photosynthesis. A few hours of bright sunshine after spraying is enough to kill a plant in about a week. It is also used to remove grass before construction of housing/industrial complexes resulting in high residues in food and damage to soil ecosystem.

Glyphosate was thought to be completely safe for many years as it works by inhibiting an enzyme pathway behind plant growth, which does not exist in humans. Numerous regulatory agencies including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have denied the possibility of any health hazard due to glyphosate. But many reports covering internal company documents have shown how Monsanto’s influence over the EPA succeeded in suppressing health concerns.

Last year courts in the US ordered Monsanto to pay damages of up to $2bn to individuals with cancer; it faces many more lawsuits. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s cancer agency, the IARC, declared that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Research shows that the percentage of Americans with detectable levels of glyphosate in their bodies increased from 12 per cent in the mid-1970s to 70 per cent by 2014.

This would suggest US regulations have not kept pace with the latest science. Almost three-quarters of the peer-reviewed papers looked at by IARC found evidence of genotoxicity in glyphosate, compared with just 1 per cent of industry analyses. Researchers at a UK consultancy ADAS in 2014 concluded the loss of glyphosate would cause very severe impacts on UK agriculture and the environment with a 20 per cent fall in wheat and rapeseed production and a 25 per cent increase in greenhouse gas emissions – a rise of 12 m. tonnes a year – if glyphosate was banned.

Because glyphosate weed killer allows planting without ploughing, which helps stop carbon being released to the atmosphere. The ADAS research was used by the National Farmers Union in lobbying against an EU ban in 2017 when the renewal of the licence for glyphosate was being considered. Bayer said farmers around the globe rely on glyphosate to provide enough food for the world’s growing population.

But a German transparency campaign group, Lobby Control revealed two pro-glyphosate German studies that were partly funded by Monsanto and published in 2011 and 2015 without the funding being declared and said, “This is an unacceptable form of opaque lobbying”. Considering the ill-effects of glyphosate, 1.2 million citizens filed a petition calling for an EU ban but the pesticide licence was renewed for five years.

However, this was far shorter than the 15 years that had been sought. Despite its carcinogenic effect, use of the chemical has grown exponentially, with the chemical giant Monsanto – purchased by Bayer in 2018 – dominating the market. The researchers, based on scientific evidence, have explored the dangers of glyphosate – harmful to both human health and the environment.

Argentine scientists found that glyphosate causes birth defects in frogs and chickens. Doctors in Paraguay and Argentina have reported on serious ill-effects like infertility, stillbirths, miscarriage and cancer in GM Soy producing areas. The Chinese Army has reportedly banned all GM foods due to glyphosate residue.

Epidemiological evidence supports strong temporal correlations between glyphosate usage on crops and a multitude of cancers that are reaching epidemic proportions, including breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, thyroid cancer, liver cancer, bladder cancer and myeloid leukaemia. Glyphosate in lentils originated from Canada is suspected to enter the Indian stomach in ever increasing doses and probably it is one of the major contributing factors behind the apparent runaway increase of autoimmune diseases.

This glyphosate is a powerful antibiotic that kills a lot of beneficial gut bacteria. US regulators set one “safe” level for all of us but they ignore the compounding effects of our daily exposures to combined pesticides and other industrial chemicals. They did not consider the higher risks at different times in our lives and in different conditions: a developing foetus, for instance, is particularly vulnerable to toxic exposures, as are children and the immunocompromised.

New research also shows that chemicals called “endocrine disruptors” can increase risk of cancers, learning disabilities, birth defects, obesity, diabetes and reproductive disorders, even at incredibly small levels. In India, after planning to ban 27 pesticides, the Centre has now moved to curb the use of glyphosate, a widely used herbicide in the country.

A draft notification issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, published on July 8 said: “No person shall use glyphosate except through Pest Control Operators”. The Restriction on use of Glyphosate Order, 2020, will come into force on the date of its final publication in the Official Gazette, the Ministry said in a notification.

The use of glyphosate has been on the rise as farmers have been increasingly relying on chemicals to tackle labour shortage, rising costs and to protect their yields from weeds. According to the industry, the government’s proposed move is impractical. While issuing this draft notification, the government did not critically appraise the full set of repercussions with glyphosate considering its ill-effects, correct dose of chemical that would not harm human health and environment and availability of pest control operators in rural areas.

The Government must think of banning the chemical to ensure safe food and to protect the environment. Scientific truth must not be manipulated simply to maximize profits of the corporate brigade at the expense of human health and environment.

Despite knowing the ill effects of glyphosate, huge amounts of toxic lentils, pulses and chickpea are still being imported from countries that use glyphosate and other synthetic chemicals. The high level of pesticides including glyphosate residues in both Indian and Canadian pulses, based on the findings of researchers, is a matter of serious health risk to a billion plus nation, as dal is ubiquitous in our diet.

 

(The writer is former Senior Scientist, Central Pollution Control Board)

 

 



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Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine

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In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.

If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?

These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.

The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.

While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.

Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?

However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.

The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.

Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.

On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.

However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.

To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.

However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.

That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.

Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.

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At 80, now serving humanity

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Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.

Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.

No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!

At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.

Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.

“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “

And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.

It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.

“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”

Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.

“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day

“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”

“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.

“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.

“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.

“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.

“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.

“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”

Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.

However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.

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Health services face imminent collapse due to fuel crisis

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A file picture of a recent doctors’ protest

By Dr B. J. C. PERERA

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Pediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Our free National Health Service is something that brings succor to the poorest of the poor, as well as even the well-to-do, and everybody in-between. As a country and a nation, we are so proud of our health services. In fact, as a developing country, we have shown the entire world how much can be accomplished, even with our meager resources, and with so few facilities made available to us in our health facilities. Our healthcare personnel are second to none anywhere else on the planet, and they try to do their best, even under trying circumstances.

There are shortages of medicines, disposable articles and equipment in our healthcare institutions. It has really gotten worse during the current economic crisis. Yet, we have managed to rise above all that, innovate, beg, borrow and do our best for the patients who come to us. Generally, our health workers will not allow a life to be lost without a fight. A case in point is how these personnel, from the lowest-ranked to the highest, rose and fought tooth and nail during the current COVID-19 pandemic. They worked without any worthwhile rest, even foregoing their meals when things had to be done to save lives. Our countrymen and countrywomen hailed us as their saviours, singing hosannas to all of them for so selflessly handling the crisis. The healthcare personnel showed results and they sacrificed many things and went through hell on earth, to save lives.

However, there is a looming dragon that is likely to inflict telling blows to cripple this hallowed service that is provided for our people. It is not due to shortages of drugs or equipment. Those can be handled to the very best of our abilities. The problem is due to severe human resource depletion that is the likely result of the current fuel shortage. It is a looming catastrophe, as large as life, where our healthcare personnel will not be able to get to their places of work, and they will not be able to respond to sudden emergencies, as there is no transport. The government, ministers and all other stupid politicians do not seem to realise this, and perhaps could not even care less about that. That is of course to be expected, as they have their agendas. They will somehow get their things done, but the people who suffer would be the poor who come to our hospitals.

However, the most distressing thing about this entire fiasco is how among our general public, the thugs, ruffians, desperados, those engaged in nefarious hoarding of fuel and all kinds of Mafias, are beginning to treat healthcare personnel at fuel queues and fuel sheds. Healthcare personnel are not asking for special treatment at fuel stations. They are an absolutely essential service, and all they are asking is for some fuel to enable them to attend to their essential service provisions. Even ambulances have to wait in queues, and are not allowed by the irate public to get priority for fuel.

A couple of weeks ago we saw in the news that a lady doctor driver was driven away from a fuel station by a mob. The most distressing thing about that entire episode was the bravado of a non-health staff lady driver, who shouted with powerful gesticulation of her arms that she had children in the car and could not make concessions to lady doctors. God forbid, but what if one of those children suddenly fell ill and the person to attend to them was the very same lady doctor who was chased away, and that person was not able to get to the hospital due to the lack of fuel?

Starting from Friday the 24th of June 2022, there was a lukewarm arrangement made to provide fuel to essential services, from certain designated fuel stations. every Friday. This was not communicated properly through all the media, and in very many places the public vehemently objected to this. The Borella junction Ceypetco fuel shed was one of the stations which were allocated for this purpose, where the essential services people, including healthcare personnel, queued up in their vehicles from around 6.00 am. The bowsers of fuel arrived only in the late evening, after a 12-hour long wait. There was hardly any security cover and virtually a free for all, with the sparse security personnel turning a blind eye to all the misdemeanors of the general public. There were loads of nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers from the National Hospital, Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children, National Eye Hospital, De Soysa Maternity Hospital and the Castle Street Hospital for Women, who were in these vehicle queues, twiddling their thumbs and being forced to keep away from their places of work. No doubt, these hospitals worked with only minimal skeleton staff. All these hospitals have a collective staff strength running into very large numbers, all working in an absolutely vital essential service. In some outstation areas, the incensed public insisted on the healthcare personnel queuing up with the general public, even on that dedicated Friday, and at least in one area, the hospital had to be closed as most of the hospital staff had to be in fuel queues. For whatever it is worth, this writer has not been able to see his patients for more than a week due to lack of fuel.

Unless a proper system to provide fuel to essential services is implemented by this impotent government, this situation will go from bad to worse. Many hospitals will have to be closed, not due to strikes or trade union actions, but due to a lack of human resources to run the hospitals. Medical personnel will not be able to attend to emergencies, especially outside working hours, and many lives will be lost. Our inability to provide timely treatment could also lead to some patients being maimed for life.

So be warned, our people of our own country. Selfishness and scant regard for law and order on the part of the general public will lead to an unprecedented catastrophe. There will be riots inside and outside the medical institutions with damage to public property. Innocent lives will be lost and blood will necessarily have to be on the hands of the decision-makers and the powers-that-be.

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