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Long-term exposure to OP insecticides puts farmers at high risk of diabetes

18 Mar

Richard Bruce, who has suffered severely for many years following exposure to pesticides in the course of his work, sends news of research by a team from Madurai Kamaraj University, published in Genome Biology and is generously accessible to all readers. The paper may be accessed here.

Megha Prakash, in an article in ‘Down to Earth’, highlights the case of a 12-year-old boy reported from Mysuru, Karnataka. In 2011 the boy had eaten tomatoes from a field without washing them only a few hours earlier. Krishnan Swaminathan, an endocrinologist and president of the Coimbatore-based Kovai Medical Centre and Hospital, says that it was due to this impact of the chemical on the body’s insulin function that he first thought there could be a link between OP exposure and diabetes.

Researchers from Madurai Kamaraj University draw blood samples of village residents to test for diabetes (ARUL / MADURAI KAMARAJ UNIVERSITY)  

The observations in this and other cases mentioned in the article formed the premise of a study, conducted by a team from the Madurai Kamaraj University, to investigate the high prevalence of diabetes being reported from rural areas. Previous studies had shown a high prevalence of diabetes in rural Tamil Nadu, but this is the first one to link pesticide exposure to the disease.

Megha Prakash writes: “The researchers surveyed 3,080 people from seven villages in Thirupparan-kundram block of Madurai district. Participants were above the age of 35 years. Almost 55% of them were from the farming community and were, hence, more likely to be exposed to OPs. Based on the blood test results, it was found that the prevalence of diabetes among the farming community was three times higher (18.3 per cent) than that in the non-farming community (6.2 per cent), despite the low level of typical risk factors such as obesity, high cholesterol and physical inactivity”.

Source of graphic: International Diabetes Federation, Ministry of Home Affairs, research papers

To read more about the action of this pesticide on the human body – and on mice – click here.

After countries started regulating or banning DDT in the 1970s due to its effects on the environment, OP insecticides came to account for 40% of the global pesticide market.

Ganesan Velmurugan, the lead researcher filed a Right to Information request against some of the state’s agricultural universities which listed these banned pesticides on their websites and even recommended their use.

But the response to his queries was not satisfactory. Kalpana Ramasamy, assistant professor at Agriculture College and Research Institute of the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University told Down To Earth that though agriculture universities are now recommending green-labelled pesticides (a green label means “slightly toxic”) to farmers, a complete ban will not be successful until an alternative to OP pesticides is found.

Prakash continues: “In India, pesticide use is regulated by the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC) and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). As of October 20, 2015, the CIBRC has completely banned two OP pesticides and regulated the use of four others. Of the four are methyl parathion, which is banned for use on fruits and vegetables, and monocrotophos, which is banned for use on vegetables”.

The study’s authors insist on the importance of spreading awareness about the effects of OP insecticides, especially in an agrarian country like India. “One must educate farmers about measures such as washing and soaking vegetables before use and wearing appropriate gear before spraying the pesticide. If awareness is not created now, in the next 10 years, the burden of this problem will be immense,” says Swaminathan.

But has effective protective clothing at last been designed? In one of many allegations,  sheep dip insecticide was alleged to contain chemicals which attacked the rubber in gloves making them porous. The effect was to render the protective clothing useless. Current advertisements say these suits only ‘reduce’ risk

Our informant Richard Bruce comments; “Of course OPs have been known to change blood sugar levels for a very long time but this confirms the diabetes link. Diabetes is rising in the general population in Britain because we are all exposed to these poisons in our food and environment.





Links between exposure to organophosphate pesticides and the onset of diabetes

26 Jan

As the government’s Food Agency is diligently warning the public of possible harm from burnt toast, will it heed a new concern raised by Indian scientists?  

British governments have a poor record when there is a conflict of interest between public health and large arms related/chemical/pharmaceutical companies.

Successive governments resisted acknowledging the harm done by early nuclear tests, Gulf War medication, thalidomide, mercury in infant vaccines and infected imported blood products – even, in the 70s and 80s compelling farmers to use organophosphate-based sheep dip and to this day encouraging the addition of a toxic chemical to drinking water.  


The number of diabetes cases in Britain is causing concern; the Medical Research Council (above, a publicly funded government agency) reported in 2015 that there are 3.9 million people living with diabetes in the UK and quotes estimates that more than one in 16 people in the UK has diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed).

Richard Bruce sends a link to a report from India by Pallava Bagla published on Tuesday. It records that scientists at Madurai Kamaraj University in Tamil Nadu have found links between the use of pesticides and the high prevalence of diabetes in India (65 million people, second only to China).

They found the prevalence of diabetes in people regularly exposed to insecticides was three-fold higher (18.3 per cent) than in unexposed people (6.2 per cent).

Their results were published in the peer-reviewed journal Genome Biology. They also conducted experiments on mice, in which they found that exposure to pesticides upsets the micro-flora of the gut, leading to the onset of diabetes. Read quite a detailed account here:

The team – which had been conducting the research in rural areas of South India – suggests that if people are continuously exposed to common OP pesticides like Malathion and Chlorpyrifos, they can get diabetes even when they do not have the other risk factors – obesity and high cholesterol.


This was a departure from traditional findings: the 3,080 people surveyed were physically active and did not have the better known risk factors for diabetes like obesity and high cholesterol.

OP pesticides are widely used in agriculture. Malathion is used even in urban areas to control mosquitoes and termites. They are known to affect memory and concentration, cause depression, headache and speech difficulties. The US Environmental Protection Agency (at risk under the new president?) publishes findings that these are amongst several classes of toxic chemicals that can harm children; researchers say OPs could be a contributing factor in learning disability and behavioural problems in children.

The scientists at Madurai Kamaraj University suggested that, in view of the high occurrence of diabetes in India, the use of OP (organophosphate) pesticides should be reconsidered.




Spotlight on Bayer-Monsanto neonicotinoid field trials

23 Sep

Farming Today (23.9.16) seems to be unaware of the content of the neonicotinoids research studies obtained by Greenpeace after a freedom of information request to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Bayer intends to make these public at the International Congress of Entomology next week.

This is not good news for Bayer, debt-laden since its takeover of Monsanto and reported to have seen its shares ‘drifting downwards’.


Reports in the Guardian and EurActiv inform readers that the research studies, conducted by Syngenta and Bayer on their neonicotinoid insecticides, showed that Syngenta’s thiamethoxam and Bayer’s clothianidin seriously harmed colonies at high doses, but found no significant effects below concentrations of 50 parts per billion (ppb) and 40ppb respectively.

Bees and other insects vital for pollinating three-quarters of the world’s food crops, have been in significant decline, due – it is thought -to the loss of flower-rich habitats, disease and the use of pesticides.

Consider the cumulative effect of neonic residues ingested from planting dust, water and treated seeds

However researchers note that pollinators in real environments are continually exposed to cocktails of many pesticides, rather than single chemicals for relatively short periods. As Matt Shardlow, chief executive of conservation charity Buglife, said:

“These studies may not show an impact on honeybee health [at low levels], but then the studies are not realistic. The bees were not exposed to the neonics that we know are in planting dust, water drunk by bees and wildflowers, wherever neonics are used as seed treatments. This secret evidence highlights the profound weakness of regulatory tests.”

prof-goulsonProfessor Dave Goulson explained, on Farming Today, that there were 20,000 species of bees and that neonics are neurotoxins that harm bumble bees, wild solitary bees and all insects. He added that there are a huge number of studies indicating the damage done and only a few that find them safe.

He reminds us on his blog that a recent Swedish study, published in the most prestigious scientific journal in the world (Nature), showed huge impacts of neonics on bumblebees and solitary bees when the chemicals were used by farmers ‘as directed on the label’ and adds a warning:

“Remember that, 50 years ago, the agrochemical industry assured us the DDT was safe, until it turned out that it wasn’t. Later, they told us that organophosphates were fine, except they weren’t. Do you believe them this time? I don’t”.




Sheep dip sufferers support group update

19 Apr

Following the 2015 post on this website, comes news from Warrington farmer Tom Rigby, co-ordinator of the Sheep Dip Sufferers’ Group, who sent a press release reporting that HSE had released details of their 1992 Sheep Dipping Survey which may be seen on their website – the report here and appendix here.

Readers new to this subject may first wish to read the full history on the group’s website.

HSE identified 700 farmers in 16 different regions of GB (385 in England, 155 in Scotland and 160 in Wales) broadly typical of the whole and 696 surveys were completed. There were 160 occasions described where some form of ill-health occurred after dipping, only three of which had been reported to MAFF/VMD. If this was representative of UK’s 90,400 sheep flocks it suggests over 20,000 cases nationwide.

Northern Farmer 2editorial

HSE’S Epidemiology and Medical Statistics Unit suggested a better way of expressing these findings were as “a crude incident rate of 8.9 self-reported illness episodes per 1000 dippers per annum”. This suggests a total of over 33,000 for MAFF’s compulsory dipping years 1976-92. Mr Rigby comments that trying to calculate incident rate this way almost certainly gives an under-estimate due to what is known as the ‘healthy worker’ effect as it ignores fatalities and those too ill to continue working (similar to trying to estimate road traffic incidents over 10 years just by interviewing current drivers).

Cumulative exposure

sheep dip peter tyrerHis testimony:

Tom Rigby says: “Whatever the precise figure it does seem by 1992 HSE were aware of the devastating effects dipping was having on the health of sheep farmers. We believe this is the reason MAFF ended compulsory dipping in June that year (something they have always denied) and we request disclosure of correspondence between HSE and MAFF in the weeks prior to that decision being taken”.

The initial results of this HSE study were published as a news release dated 20th July 1993 with the title “HSE SURVEY CONFIRMS POOR WORKING PRACTICES DURING SHEEP DIPPING”. It highlighted “dippers hands or feet were used to immerse sheep on 48 farms” (7% of the total) and the head of HSE’s Livestock National Interest Group, (the sponsors of the report) said “this survey has confirmed our view of where the problems lie”.

Northern Farmer 2 SDS questionsHowever now we have sight of the survey in full there seems to be no correlation between dipping practice and reports of ill-health. 662 farmers, including those using hands and feet, account for proportionately fewer cases than 17 contract dippers who were exclusively using dipping aids.

It said, “Although contract dippers made up only 2.4% of the total they accounted for 10.6% of incidents”. This suggests the greatest single factor seems to be cumulative exposure. Many farmers were not aware of danger of cumulative exposure through inhalation until alerted by this piece in the Farmers Weekly fifteen years later. It is now accepted by HSE but not by DEFRA.

As the contract dippers were also found to be wearing better protective clothing than farmers the main route of exposure might have been inhalation, but face masks were not issued. The shortcoming of protective clothing available at the time is discussed on this audio clip from Countryfile from 1992.

There was no attempt in the survey to try to correlate ill-health with different chemicals used when dipping, apart from the observation that some farmers noticed less problems using non-OP dips. One main conclusion of the report was “Farmers need to be encouraged to substitute a hazardous product (OPs) with a less hazardous product (non OP)”. Sadly however for the last 23 years the ill-health of farmers affected has been ignored; all non-OP have been taken off the market leaving OPs as the only products available for dipping.

We include snapshots from the Northern Farmer’s March edition, which mentioned the work of the group in its front page story, the main feature inside and an editorial (above, centre) calling for an inquiry, listing three questions (above left) to which the group wants answers.


Wheat and other cereals – 1. organophosphate pesticides

29 Nov

A message received from Richard Bruce highlights the lack of reference to “the poisons that are added to the wheat AFTER harvest, in the food grain stores and during processing”. He continues: “Here in the UK tons of the poisons have been admixed with wheat, barley, oats and other food crops every year for decades, often with no withholding times after treatment at all.

“The EU intervention stores demanded that the grains were protected from insect infestation by these products for at least 5 years in store … Bakers have refused delivery of clean wheat unless it is treated with the poisons.

“Even the British Medical Association stated in the publication Pesticides, Chemicals and Health (link only to citation, payment site) that wholemeal bread contained the highest residues of the poison – yet 24 years later it is still approved for use in our food and NEVER appears on the food content labels because it does not have to be declared. The official reason? Because it is classed as a pesticide and not a food additive.

Richard adds that using organic flour should limit intake of the poisons – if the authorities are not permitted to weaken organic standards.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information in the United States aims to ‘advance science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information’. A link from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a research agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services relates an account of organophosphate poisoning after eating a wheat bagel:

Intern Med. 2009;48(2):85-8. Epub 2009 Jan 15: “Organophosphate poisoning due to a wheat bagel”: Kavalci C1, Durukan POzer MCevik YKavalci G. It is stated that organophosphate compounds are possibly the most widely-used insecticides worldwide, causing poisoning – inhibiting acetylcholinesterase at the cholinergic synapses:

After eating a wheat bagel, 13 patients with organophosphate poisoning were admitted to our emergency department. Seven were males and 6 were females. The mean age of the patients was 26 +/- 13.9. The mean serum acetylcholinesterase level was 2945.1+/-2648.9 U/L. Nine patients who had supportive treatment and who were given atropine and pralidoxime were hospitalized approximately 6.8+/-6.5 days. All of the patients recovered after the treatment and no deaths occurred.

In National Geographique (2013), Dana Boyd Barr, an exposure scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who has studied organophosphate poisoning recorded that organophosphates are so toxic to humans that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken steps to limit their availability to the public: “The EPA has asked manufacturers to voluntarily eliminate its use [for residential purposes] . . .There are a couple still available for residential garden use, but they’re few.”

Richard asks:

  • Are the increasing incidences of “allergy” to gluten really the symptoms induced by the presence of organophosphates?
  • Does avoiding the gluten also avoid most of the poison?

Part 2 below.


Poland applies for GM opt-out as Conservatives’ leader calls Scotland’s GM-free good food policy ‘vote-chasing’

18 Oct

scot ban gmScottish Farmer’s News Editor, Gordon Davidson, reports that Scottish Conservatives’ leader Ruth Davidson, during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood, said that the SNP’s stance against GM crops (August 2015) “does nothing to enhance Scotland’s long-standing reputation for scientific creativity”.

She challenged the First Minister to publish all the advice and evidence she had received on the issue, to prove that it was based on more than “polling and focus grouping”.

“This is not just about GM crops – this is about her approach to government,” said Ms Davidson. “It’s vote-chasing, political calculation – it’s not science, not industry and not jobs . . . The Royal Society of Edinburgh has published its highly critical paper on the decision, and rightly points out it wasn’t based on scientific evidence and could place Scottish businesses at a competitive disadvantage”. During the agriculture debate in Holyrood last week, Scottish Conservative rural affairs spokesman Alex Fergusson said:

“Richard Lochhead talks about protecting the ‘purity’ and ‘quality’ of Scottish produce by banning the growing of GM crops and therefore denying the potential to be able to grow those same crops without the use of chemical pesticides and fungicides that are in such common use today”.

He fails to mention that additional pesticide applications are needed in some GM crops as insects become resistant – and herbicides are needed in USA to kill the ‘superweeds’ that have developed resistance to glyphosate herbicide used on GM crops by Monsanto.

Below: the dishonest but widely propagated myth, equating traditional plant-to-plant cross breeding with the GM practices of combining genetic material across species – plant/animal/bacteria/virus.

“Plant and animal breeding and cross breeding has been going on since time immemorial, and GM technology is simply an extension of that science . . . ,” insisted Mr Fergusson.

The dishonest but widely propagated myth that GM technology is essential to ‘feed the world’

“It has the potential to provide an exciting new future for agriculture – of which the principle purpose must always be to feed an ever-increasing world population” – not so according to many authorities, including UNEP, FOE, Nature Biotechnology, Indian analyst and the Organic Research Centre.


Jadwiga Lopata and Julian Rose (below) send news from Poland’s Ministry of the Environment

Julian2 Jadwiga opening IPPC

Confirmation has been received from Poland’s Ministry of the Environment that Poland has sent a letter confirming its intention of applying to the European Commission in Brussels for 8 GM opt-outs, covering all varieties of GM maize developed for use in agriculture, in accordance with Clause 17 of the recent legislation.

The Association for a GMO Free Poland and the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside prompted the Polish government to act on the GMO opt out clause – application deadline, October 3rd 2015.

So far Germany, France, Greece, Latvia, Austria, Croatia, Northern Ireland and Greece have applied for the GM opt-out. Poland will be the ninth Country to take this position.

Sir Julian Rose, ICPPC President, said: The nation has a proud record of fine farmhouse foods that purvey health and welfare to millions of citizens. For this record to be maintained, GM crops must be prohibited from being cultivated on Polish soils”. Jadwiga Lopata, ICPPC Founder/Vice President, said: “Seventy five percent of Polish citizens have consistently said ‘NO to GMO!’ Government is duty bound to act on such a conclusive voice in favour
of banning GMO.

“This opt-out presents an opportunity to stand up for the independent sovereignty of Poland as a GMO Free nation. It is critical that the Polish Parliament makes a clear act banning GMO in Poland”.



BT cotton’s whitefly problems in Punjab & Haryana: why is the M-word avoided?

10 Sep

With thanks to Eva Novotny for the lead to this news in GM Watch and to Devinder Sharma for some cheering news on the subject.

To date not one newspaper report has mentioned Monsanto, the manufacturer of this technology. An online search reveals that only a Global Research headline (article first published in July 2015), relating to farmer suicides, has done so, presumably braving litigation.

Ikhhlaq Aujla in the Times of India reports that genetically modified BT cotton varieties which offered resistance to American bollworm are under attack from whitefly in both Punjab and Haryana this season – areas which account for about 11-12% of country’s total cotton output. (Below left: whitefly on cotton in America)

The Tribune adds that the pest has come early this year: “The early onset of the infestation and its severity has left the farmers in distress,” said Gurjeet Singh Mann, a farmer in Kirpal Patti village of Sirsa and has crossed economic twhitefly cotton 2USAhreshold levels (ETL). Principal scientist at the Central Institute of Cotton Research, Dr Dalip Monga explains: “If the number of insects is eight to 10 per leaf, the attack is said to have crossed ETL. But in Sirsa, we have observed 15 to 20 insects per leaf at most places and even up to 30 to 40 insects per leaf on some other plants.”

Another Tribune report records that this blow comes after earlier losses in rice and wheat crops. Asked about the third consecutive shock suffered by farmers, Agriculture Commissioner Balwinder Singh Sidhu said, “It is an unfortunate situation. Obviously, the damage to the cotton crop will aggravate the crisis in the farm sector and hurt the farmers badly.”

Returning to the TOI report we read that farmers in many parts of Punjab and Haryana have uprooted cotton for other crops in recent days. Baljinder Singh Sidhu from Kotbhara village in Bathinda said, “Build-up to the pest was so sudden that it caught us unawares. Many farmers in my village have uprooted cotton since the damage to the crop was massive.”

An official from the Punjab agriculture department said, “We are organizing camps in villages and telling farmers to use recommended pesticides . . .” but in 2002, cotton farmers used so much pesticide against the whitefly that the chemical is believed to have affected the soil and groundwater. TOI reports that many believe this is the reason behind a large number of cancer cases detected among people in the cotton belt. (Below, unprotected spraying)

cotton spraying

Prof Ashok Dhawan, former head of the entomology, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, said, “The whitefly attack can lead to 30%-40% drop in average yield in the affected areas. Spraying pesticides is not the best solution. Farmers need to follow a composite plan. We need varieties that are resistant,” said Prof Dhawan.

TOI later reported that farmers have marched to the deputy commissioner’s office and submitted a memorandum demanding special survey for their crop destroyed by whitefly., ‘Sirsa deputy director of agriculture Babu Lal admitted the problem of pest attack and said about 25% of the cotton crop got affected by whitefly. He said, “Though arrival of cotton has not started in Sirsa, we will come to know about yield loss after the produces reaches the mandis.”

The Indian Express adds that agriculture experts at Muktsar, Bathinda and Fazilka believe the improper use of insecticides was the primary reason for the whitefly attack in the state, noting that all the farmers who had used an excess of urea had their crops affected. However when asked, experts said there is no scientific reason which can connect urea usage with white fly attack.

Stop press: received this morning from Delhi’s Devinder Sharma:

devinder sharma 3Farmers in Nidana and Lalit Khera, two tiny and nondescript villages in Jind district of Haryana, are oblivious of any threat to their cotton crop. In fact, while Haryana farmers are a worried lot, whitefly attack is non-existent in a cluster of 18 villages in the same district. They do not spray any chemical pesticides for several years now and have instead been using benign insects to control harmful pests. This year too, they allowed the natural predators of whitefly to proliferate, which in turn killed the whitefly. In other words, these farmers have learnt the art of maintaining insect equilibrium in such a manner that the benign insects take care of the pests by not allowing insect population to cross the threshold level. “We don’t have any problem from whitefly,” Ranvir Singh, a farmer, informed me.