Are you one of those Indian parents who goad their children to drink milk? Just wait.
A study by the Indian Council of Medical Research on milk samples from 2205 cows and buffaloes came out with shocking results: 85 per cent of the samples had pesticide levels above the acceptable level.
As cows and buffaloes chew on agriculture waste, they end up consuming pesticide residues clinging to it-a direct fall out of excessive use of pesticides in India.
As pesticide residues enter the food chain and gets into our breakfast, lunch and dinner, Indian women have been found to have unacceptable amounts of pesticide residues in their breast milk. Even the newborn is not spared from day one. Studies on lactating mothers have shown just that both in Delhi and Punjab.
There are few occasions as blissful as lunch and dinner when you live a jet set life packed with meetings, conferences, deadlines and targets. It is the time you take out to pamper yourself. The chappatis, rice, dal, sabjis, salad and a bowl of curd all look so inviting. After a hearty meal, you are planning to have some fruity desert that has green grapes and rich red pomegranate pods. But, again, wait.
You may be consuming half a milligram of two of the most widely used toxic pesticides in India: Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane (DDT) and Benzene Hexachloride (BHC). It may also have a dash of Malathion and Endosulfan, two chemicals that are banned in most parts of the world. If that has to be quantified, it is less than a pinpoint.
But this is 40 times more than what average Americans or British ingest with their food.
Another ICMR study found large amounts of pesticide residues in fruits, vegetables, pulses, grains, wheat flour, eggs, meat, fish, poultry and milk. The spread on the dining table may actually be a cocktail of chemicals…
As you pick up vegetables in the market, you pick on white cauliflower associating it with freshness. But it is white, as it has been dipped in pesticide after harvesting so that it loses that dull yellow look! Pesticide residues in food can cause numerous health complications like cancer, genetic defects and impotency. The toxins are here. The slow poisoning of India has begun.
In the early 1960's, the debate about pesticides was largely confined to industrialized nations. Today, India is at the center of the debate as it indiscriminately uses pesticides. In 1960, India used pesticides on six million hectares. By 1988, the total had increased to 80 million hectares.
Today, India annually spreads over 1,54,000 tonnes of pesticides in its fields to cover around 180 million hectares of cultivated area. All pesticides are lethal poisons.
Chemicals like DDT and BHC are absorbed by the small intestine and stick to our fatty tissues. Over the years, a body could store a wide variety of these toxins. India is not only one of the largest users of pesticide; it is also one of the largest manufacturers. The pesticide industry in India worth over 50 billion rupees is booming.
In the last 50 years, India has dumped more than one million tonnes of DDT and BHC on arable land. We absorb a bit of it everyday. At risk are not only present generations, but also future ones as genetic mutations can play havoc. Already, there are danger signals.
Areas like Warangal in Andhra Pradesh and Bhatinda in Punjab, which are among the highest users of pesticide in India, are seeing an uneasy rise in infertility clinics as young couples struggle with a new reality of being childless. Both these areas are also seeing an increase in cancer cases.
Pesticides also enhance the risks of cancer by acting as carcinogens. It suppresses the immune system that could prevent creation of tumours in the body.
DDT and BHC do not degrade easily. It can persist in the environment for as long as 20 years. The soil becomes a reservoir for such pesticides steadily transferring them to crops, polluting groundwater and impacting natural and human life. India is the world’s largest user of DDT.
Pesticides attack the human immune system at different points. It could result in numerous life threatening diseases like cancer, respiratory aliments, skin diseases, kidney failure, impotence and ulcers.
However, the government does not think it necessary to ban dangerous pesticides that are today banned in most parts of the world.
Forty pesticides banned all over the world due to its frightening after effects on public health are all easily available in India. One of the dangerous pesticides is Lindane. A study by the Ahmedabad based Consumer Education and Research Society found that popular brands of wheat flour contained Lindane.
Developed countries are lowering its maximum permissible limits of pesticide residue, so as to safeguard health. They have also woven Integrated Pest Management, organic farming and bio-pesticides in their agricultural policy. But, India is refusing to see the danger of slow poisoning. India does not have a pesticide policy.
But, India will be forced to clean up.
Once the WTO regulations come in, exports from India will collapse.
Today, large amounts of pesticide are used on the chilly crop in Guntur at Andhra Pradesh. But once WTO specifications of food grade quality come in, there will be no exports if such excessive amounts of pesticide are used. Already, tea gardens in Darjeeling are turning organic as countries like Germany are boycotting Indian tea that contains any traces of pesticides. The writing on the wall is clear.
Western countries are now effectively building public opinion against Indian goods like cotton textiles talking of how it is saturated with poisonous chemicals hoping to cut down Indian exports. Large shipments of grapes from India have been sent back to India as it was found to have large amounts of pesticide residues. After suffering huge financial losses with export rejects, grape farmers in Maharashtra are now moving into organic farming.
Ironically, market forces may force us to move towards a healthier future.