Sri Lanka: University research finds killer arsenic in imported agrochemicals

A six month study by a group of scientists from the universities of Kelaniya and Rajarata has found evidence of lethal levels of arsenic in the agrochemicals used by farmers in Sri Lanka. The group comprising chemists, pharmacologists, botanists, medical doctors and forensic specialists say the arsenic poisoning is very likely linked to the mystery kidney disease known as ‘CKDu’ that has killed 20,000 farmers in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in the past 20 years.

“We are 100 percent sure that there are dangerous quantities of arsenic in the agrochemicals imported into the country. We have to continue our research a little more to show that this is linked to the CKDu disease in Rajarata” says the head of the research team Prof. Nalin De Silva.

However, agrochemical manufacturing companies have not yet accepted responsibility. Agribusiness corporations have become very upset by this revelation and have published a full page advertisement with 20 such corporations coming together. It denies this and has the caption that “scientific truth that protects agriculture will ever prevail”. In the meantime the Minister of Agriculture issued a statement saying that “There is no arsenic in the rice produced in the country”. He says that “28 varieties of agrochemicals were tested and there was arsenic present only in two of those”.

The illness and death of thousands of Rajarata farmers by the mystery kidney disease (axiology/origin — CKDu) has baffled doctors for years. Local scientists found that the disease was connected with the agrochemicals that the farmers were using. This was linked with arsenic poison. The farmers had this suspicion for quite a long time and now it appears to be proved with evidence conclusively.

The scientists investigated eight varieties of agrochemicals. They say the hard water in this region converts the arsenic in agrochemicals into Calcium arsenate ( Ca3( AsO4 )2 , which is a highly poisonous chemical. This dissolves in water. Due to the hardness of water in Rajarata this becomes even more dangerous.

The scientists invited the importing agrochemical companies to look at the research that they were doing. Three of them came and they have not challenged their research. In testing these agrochemicals it was proved that they contained between 100 to 3,000 micrograms per kg. This is a dangerous lethal quantity of poison that can kill a human person. Importing of agrochemicals that contain arsenic is against the Sri Lankan law.

Experts say it takes time for symptoms of arsenic poisoning to appear. So patients discover it too late for treatment. Arsenic poisoning can cause heart attacks, diabetes, weakening of body immunity etc. frequent attacks of viral diseases occur. It is also causes cancer. It can cause deformed babies too. In Padaviya out of a population of about 10,000 over 500 people suffer this disease. In this area 40% of the people who die are due to this disease says the doctor in charge of Padaviya hospital.

Advocates of organic eco-friendly farming have long argued that all agrochemicals are poisonous. They are poisonous to animals, poisonous to plants, poisonous to microbes in the soil, poisonous to insects. There is no doubt that they are poisonous to the human body in diverse ways. It is impossible to completely get rid of pests with chemical pesticides. It only leads to breeding of more resistant pests and creating pest epidemics of larger scale

So, what is “the scientific truth that protects agriculture that will prevail?” Agriculture is something given by nature free of charge. Sunlight given free of charge, CO 2 gas also given free, and water given free is absorbed by the leaves of trees. The required minerals are transformed by the microbes and earthworms of the soil. This all happens free. What we do by using agrochemicals is the killing of this free process given by nature. We kill nature, kill animals, plants and finally humans. This is an unscientific falsehood that destroys agriculture and nature. Therefore what we need to do is to give up this entire destructive process of chemical farming.

Mr. Olivier De Schutter, the special Rapporteur on the right to food of the United Nations submitted a report to the Human Rights Council of the UN on 17 December 2010 titled “Agro ecology and right to food” (Report no. A/ HRC/ 16/ 49 ) where he says that the way to solve the hunger crisis of the world is by adopting agro ecology. He says that states must pay serious attention to reorienting their agriculture systems towards a mode of production that are highly productive, highly sustainable, and contribute to the progressive realization of human right to food and that this can be done by adopting agro ecological methods.

What we need to do today is to save the scientific truth of agriculture from the agribusiness TNCs that propagate the unscientific farming with poison for increasing their profits.