Sunday, July 8, 2007

An Open Letter to the Pesticide Industry
its Associations like Agro-Chemical Promotion Group [APG],
Crop Care Federation of India,
Centre for Environment & Agro-Chemicals etc.

It is a well-established fact that farming can be done without pesticides and thousands of farmers are indeed doing so all over India, across all crops. It is also a well-known fact that pesticides are poisons that can harm living organisms and are related to many illnesses and other negative impacts due to direct and indirect exposure to such toxic chemicals. It is not just the people’s organizations, movements and NGOs that recognize this reality but farmers and affected communities themselves, academia including agriculture scientists and medical scientists in addition to national and international agencies working on the issue [including UN bodies].

There is widespread recognition of the need to give up pesticides and there are many different efforts being taken up for promoting non-chemical alternatives. Sales are reportedly decreasing and the markets shrinking for the industry. There is also a review process underway of looking at the possible ban of at least 37 pesticides in India, which have been banned elsewhere on various grounds. The pesticides industry seems to be driven into a very desperate position to revive and expand its markets and to paint a good picture of itself. That desperation reflects itself in the many unacceptable tactics employed by the industry and its associations against the civil society groups discussing the issue of pesticides and environmental health.

It is ridiculous that the pesticide industry should choose to stifle, through what could only be termed as goonda, threatening tactics, a healthy, independent and comprehensive discussion on the need for pesticides, the risks associated compared to any benefits, their relation with the current situation in agriculture and health being witnessed in many locations, the issue of liability and redressal and so on.

In the past three-four years, the pesticides industry and its associations have sent many legal notices to organizations in India such as Community Health Cell, Bangalore; Toxics Link, New Delhi; Greenpeace India, Bangalore; Centre for Science & Environment, New Delhi; Kheti Virasat Mission, Faridkot district etc. These legal notices received responses from the various organizations. In spite of having received responses, the pesticides industry is using the tactic of choosing to go around the country through Crop Life India, holding press conferences and threatening NGOs of legal action through the media.

While that is one tactic being used, another tactic is not of a legal notice, but an outright threatening letter. These “Public apology, Or Else”/“withdraw, or else” letters are being sent straight by the industry’s associations like APG and CEAC to certain grassroots organizations. There are also instances of letters of ‘reasoning out’ being sent to some groups and individuals by industry’s associations like APG [“All concerned need to join hands…for safe and judicious use of agri-inputs”, “assess the issue objectively” and so on].

What is particularly offensive is the recent spate of letters received by organizations like Kheti Virasat Mission, Punjab and all the speakers who have been invited to a meeting on Pesticides, Cancer and Reproductive Health on May 6th 2006 in Chandigarh. Each expert, eminent speaker to the meeting has been sent a legal notice by the industry’s associations. Worse, one of the speakers of an international agency even received an anonymous threatening phone call warning the speaker against participating in the meeting on the 6th. All these letters to the speakers warn them that they will be ‘dragged into litigation’ if they take part in the meeting – this is the industry’s unacceptable interference in the basic fundamental right of expression that these speakers/organizations have. It is worth noting that the meeting will be held as per plan and the organizers and speakers refused to be cowed down by such threats.
It should also be noted that the industry never had a problem with its own aggressive, incentive-based propaganda for marketing its products. The pesticide companies were happy when their sales were being increased by the distribution and dealer network that actively encouraged farmers to resort to indiscriminate use and often gave wrong and dangerous information. However when it is time for an informed debate with the best scientists, sociologists and friends of farmers on the issue of pesticides and their need, that the industry would like everyone to be “objective”.

Through this open letter, we would like the pesticides industry to clearly recognize the following facts:

organizations like Kheti Virasat Mission are not alone in their studies, findings, views and experiences related to pesticides. There are many scientifically accepted studies which show the negative impacts of pesticides in many different ways, by experts in various fields and not just civil society groups
even governments are recommending the ban of pesticides on many grounds, including health grounds
we are all against the use of pesticides in our agriculture and food and we believe that agriculture is possible without synthetic pesticides.

How many agencies and organizations does the industry want to threaten, with its goonda tactics – all of the above?

We demand through this letter that the pesticides industry stop using such tactics, especially when a healthy, informed debate is being created for the first time on the issue of pesticide use in states like Punjab. Otherwise, they will be forced to sue hundreds of us, since we are all working on eliminating and replacing chemical pesticide use in agriculture, with adequate and appropriate scientific evidence in front of us. More importantly, we are driven by the fact that farmers themselves are innovating and are showing the world that pesticides are not inevitable in agriculture.

Umendra Dutt

No comments: