Poison we eat: Harmful pesticides

Chemical pesticide that initially was considered advantageous has proved destructive. To safeguard the citizen’s health, a long-term goal of the government should be chemical-free organic pest controls and awareness raising

Every day we eat a huge amount of poison. Doctors advise their patients to consume more green vegetables and fruit for good health.

All these ‘good’ foods, including grains and pulses that we consume, contain fatal chemicals. While buying fresh and snowy looking cauliflower, you should be aware it is highly likely it has been sprayed recently with insecticide.

Careless amount of pesticide spray, spray of banned pesticides and supply of farm products immediately after spraying are major problems among Nepali farmers seriously hampering the lives of consumers.

Over the last fifty years, many human illnesses and deaths have occurred as a result of exposure to pesticides. According to WHO, from pesticide alone 70,000 deaths are reported annually in the world.

Despite government’s claim that it is managing and reducing the use of chemical pesticides and fungicides in vegetables and fruits, data show the import of these chemicals to be swelling each year.

According to the Plant Protection Directorate (PPD), 455 tons of pesticides valued at Rs. 550 million entered the country in 2013-14, a sharp rise from 345 tons in 2012-13. Every year in December, government and some NGOs celebrate awareness campaigns for the proper use of pesticides, about organic pesticides, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), etc.

However, such campaigns are fruitless and just rituals. In an interview only one in ten farmers had ever heard of IPM. Such harmful chemicals are still in much use in the central region of the country due to the increasing number of commercial vegetable farms.

Farmers in Bara, Chitwan, Dhading and Kavre districts spray pesticides five to six times a year, and also use extremely hazardous chemicals. We annually import 452 metric tons of pesticides and 85 per cent are used in vegetable farming.

The current pesticide use rate of Nepal is 142 grams per hectares which is one of the lowest in South Asia.

In India 400 grams per hectares is used while in Japan 12-15 kg per hectare. But the lower use rate of the country is due to concentrated use of pesticides in vegetable and fruit farming rather than in all crops.

Vegetable and fruit farmers alone use 1400 grams of pesticide per hectares in Nepal which is a high rate. Allowing less time between spraying and market supply has created serious threats to consumers.

Some pesticides need two-three weeks after spraying for safe consumption. WHO has classified many pesticides like Methyl-parathion and Endosulphan as extremely hazardous which are still in use in Nepal.

Studies by independent groups found high levels of pesticide in the fruits and vegetables sold at Kalimati fruits and vegetables market. Nearly 14 per cent of vegetables being supplied to the market were found having a high level of pesticide residues or pesticides beyond permissible limits, and even containing banned chemicals.

After such alerting findings, government was pressurized to establish a Rapid Pesticides Residue Analysis Laboratory at Kalimati market in 2014. However, technician’s capacity, equipment and the existing manpower are big questions. In 2014, this lab found 26 of the 187 vegetable samples containing hazardous chemicals.

However, the monitoring and impeachment mechanism of the government is so lethargic that on finding faulty samples, the government was unable to ban or punish the sellers.

This is a violation of consumer’s right. In a case study done at Kerala, the cashew-nut ground of India shows how devastating chemical pesticides are.

After about 40 years of high pesticide spray for this high cash crop, there are now several villages with children having congenital abnormalities such as body deformities, loss of eyesight, hole in heart, and genital deformity.

As the drinking water of the villages were infected from pesticide a large number of elderly population had cancer and endocrine disruption and females had high abortion rates.

Farmers should be oriented for the proper using methods, handing methods, mixing methods, banned chemicals, storage period and organic/herbal pesticides.

Scrutiny of imported chemicals at customs points and monitoring of shopkeepers should be effective. Daily users should be aware that even some small steps can lower their health hazards. According to health experts, vegetables a little stale and spotted by insects are safer than fresh and clean ones.

Also, soaking fresh vegetables and fruit in salt water for a few hours or storing them for a few days before use make them less harmful. There are mechanical and cultural tools for pest control such as insect trap, crop selection (as a number of crops have disease resistant variety), plant extracts, animal waste (urine, cow-dung).

There are also several biological controls such as predator insects and beneficial microorganisms. Common household stuffs such as mixture of liquid dish-wash and vegetable oil can also control many insects and parasites like white fly, spider, mice, and fungus which are already tested in growing carrot, cucumber, tomato, and eggplants.

Human history has developed with many useful and some harmful inventions and one such is the chemical pesticide that initially were considered advantageous but proved destructive.

To safeguard the citizen’s health a long term goal of the government should be chemical free organic pest controls, intensive inspections and awareness raising.