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A Toxics-Free Future


Bihar Tragedy – Pesticides At What Cost?

Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) Media Statement

23 July 2013

Bihar Tragedy – Pesticides At What Cost?  

Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) records its condolences to the families of the 25 school children who were killed in the recent food poisoning tragedy of eating lunch at a school in the eastern Indian state of Bihar and its sympathies to the dozens more children and families who had been taken ill by this same incident.

It is indeed extremely regretful to learn that forensic reports have confirmed that the cause of death was the shockingly high presence of pesticide. According to Ravinder Kumar a senior police officer, “The forensic laboratory found monocrotophos in the food which is a compound of organophospohorus and used to kill pests in agricultural fields.” The lunch was part of India's Mid-Day Meal Scheme that covers 120 million children and aims to tackle malnutrition and encourage school attendance. It had already drawn widespread complaints over food safety.

PAN AP raises the question yet again as to how many more catastrophes of such horrendous proportions at the expense of innocent lives, would it take for people the world over to say no to chemicals on our food. PAN AP reiterates its call to stop the use of pesticides on agricultural crops, prioritize food safety and to address problems pertaining to food quality.

According to Dr. Meriel Watts, Senior Technical Advisor to PAN AP, “Organophosphate insecticides are highly toxic, especially for children, and should never be kept or used near food, especially those destined for children’s meals”.

Organophosphate insecticides are easily accessible as these are commonly used in the industrial, agricultural and home settings. They are highly toxic and affect the nervous system. They include monocrotophos, parathion and chlorpyrifos, as well as malathion, diazinon and dichlorovos.  Monocrotophos is a broad spectrum, fast-acting insecticide and acaricide that is highly toxic by all routes of exposure- oral, dermal, and through inhalation. It is classified as a WHO Class Ib, i.e., highly hazardous pesticide, and it is listed in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention as a hazardous pesticide. Severe poisoning affects the central nervous system, producing lack of coordination and eventual paralysis of the body extremities and the respiratory muscles. The highest use of monocrotophos recorded in India is on cotton, however, it is also applied on food crops including rice, maize, peanuts, and potatoes.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been urging India to ban monocrotophos since 2009. They did warn that many pesticide containers were not being disposed of in the correct manner and some were even being used to store food and water.

“The mid day meal programme is to ensure that children get enough nutrition to grow into healthy adults, and this shocking incident calls for urgent action from Bihar government.  It should ensure that safety of  mid day meals and bring stronger regulations and restrictions of pesticide poisons. I wish to recall the incident in Kerala which had paved the way for the Indian Insecticide Act to materialise and hope this Bihar incident will trigger more stringent measures to ensure safe food for schools” said Mr. Jayakumar Chelaton of PAN India.

Biodiversity based ecological agriculture and other agricultural practices including organic farming is gaining more widespread popular support and has the potential to address the food crisis but needs more support from government.  Coordinated efforts are needed to advance food sovereignty, which amongst its principles, pushes for the recognition of the rural community and their rights, particularly the rights of women and children, to safe and healthy food.

Sarojeni Rengam
Executive Director
PAN Asia and the Pacific