Glyphosate is extensively used for the control of weeds in tea estates / AFP

I was shocked to see recent media reports quoting National Academy of Sciences of Sri Lanka (an academic body incorporated by Parliament) that the academy was not aware of any scientific evidence from studies in Sri Lanka and abroad showing that CKDs (Chronic Kidney Disease) is caused by glyphosate. In the meantime, the Government of Sri Lanka banned (vide gazette notification dated 11th June 2015) the import of glyphosate, which is extensively used for the control of weeds by tea estates. Commercial glyphosate-based formulations most commonly range from concentrates containing 41% or more glyphosate to 10% glyphosate formulations. The mechanisms of toxicity of glyphosate formulations are complicated. Therefore it is difficult to separate the toxicity of glyphosate from that of the formulation as a whole.Most of the tea estates including small holders depend on this chemical as opposed to manual weed control. However, indiscriminate use of glyphosate in excessive dosages could adversely affect health and productivity of the tea bush as well as the environment. Regular use could result in glyphosate residues in our made tea. According to WHO, the minimum residual levels (MRL) of glyphosate allowed in black tea is 0.5 mg in one kilo of made tea.In order to minimise adverse effects, Tea Research Institute (TRI) recommends that the number of applications of Glyphosate should be limited to two rounds per year.

Scientific conclusions
In the meantime, French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal announced last week the ban on the sale of popular weed killer Roundup from garden centres. The active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, was classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the UN. A working party of the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that glyphosate is now considered to be “a probable human carcinogen”. (1) Their full report is yet unpublished. So it is not conclusive.The estate management has been making representations to the government that they be permitted to use the minimum amount of glyphosate recommended by TRI as there is no commercially viable alternative to glyphosate. It would be too costly and not practical to weed large areas of tea fields using labour force. Also if they are allowed to use scrapers and other utensils, there could be adverse effect on soil erosion. Ideally an “integrated weed management” system is recommended, but it is not practical to implement in large areas as in the case of tea estates coming under the regional plantation companies (RPCs). In terms of the sustainability policy, the RPCs will continually assess and periodically review the state of the environment covering the best agricultural practices adopted.

Coming back to possible causes for chronic kidney disease prevalent in north central province, a new set of hypotheses is being developed to ascertain whether taking Mahaweli water to Rajarata area under the accelerated Mahaweli diversion project in late seventies could be the cause for CKDu prevalent in that area. According to a report published by National Academy of Sciences (NASSL) titled “A quarter century of Mahaweli” Quote; “In proper land and water management, problems like salinity, iron toxicity, pollution from agro-chemicals should not arise” unquote.(ISBN 955-8162-01-9, 2000, page95) The former Director General Agriculture, Dr.Sarath Amarasiri was quoted raising a pertinent question to ascertain whether there is a relationship between CKDu and salts in NCP well water.

I recently started reading as interesting book written by Professor Dirk Wolfson, titled The political economy of sustainable development just published in June 2015. Dirk Wolfson, who was the Professor of Economics at Erasmus University Rotterdam served the IMF at one time. He publishes widely on the environment and political economy. Political economy analyses how public policy is created and implemented. Dirk Wolfson shows how sustainable development may be organized, valued and distributed. More I read the chapters from this book, more I realise how little we know on the subject matter.
New knowledge is being developed on a daily basis challenging the previously known, tested and accepted theories. Stephen Hawking is no wonder the genius of the century. Here is an amazing quote from him.“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.”

Economic wellbeing
In order to make the economy work for people and planet, we need new Wellbeing Economic measures that take into account environmental and social issues and supplement mere “GDP computations” to become a central measure. It is important to be aware that the idea of merely “greening” consumption will not achieve the necessary absolute reductions in use of resources and eliminate waste. The solution to over-consumption is not simply to buy more ‘green’ stuff. The real story is that.Work is under way in governments around the world to develop new indicators. These new indicators will change the way we look at life and our planet and are bound to be revolutionary in the way they impact on our economy.

The proponents of wellbeing concept claim that a “green consumption” approach will not work. Unfortunately the “green movement” preached by NGOs has largely fallen for the green consumption myth.

The solution to over-consumption is not simply to buy more ‘green’ stuff, however more efficient or ‘green’ it might be. This thinking is just not radical enough to effect the real change that is needed in society today. This concept is fast gaining ground world over.

Real change
Back to glyphosate controversy. Ten NGOs operating in EU countries have written an open letter in April this year to the Chinese President, Ambassador to the UK and Chinese people asking China to suspend exports of glyphosate herbicides while independent testing is carried out. Quote; “We understand that China already is the largest producer and exporter of glyphosate in the world, including supplies exported to Monsanto for use in the manufacture of Roundup formulations worldwide….” Unquote. The patent held by Monsanto Corporation, US based multinational, has expired and now China has become the leading exporter of glyphosate. The Monsanto already dominates America’s food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Now it has targeted milk production. Just as frightening as the corporation’s tactics–ruthless legal battles against small farmers–is its decades-long history of toxic contamination.No wonder this concentrated effort by western NGOs to ban Round Up. The Government of Sri Lanka has also issued a gazette notification banning the import of glyphosate on 11th June 2015, but the whereabouts of the 15 containers of glyphosates already arrived at the port of Colombo in middle of May areunknown.