Organic farming and health

Dear Editor,
The common citizens do not have access to real healthy food in the market as all are contaminated with residual herbicides like glyphosate and other residual pesticides and hormone.
Glyphosate is the most-used agrochemical globally with 9.4 million MT already sprayed. After the introduction of Genetically Modified (GM) Roundup Ready crops in 1996, which were engineered to tolerate Roundup herbicide, the use of Glyphosate has increased manifold. In India, this herbicide is used before pre-harvesting several crops for separating the cereals easily and also used to remove the grass before construction of housing/industrial complex resulting in high residues in food and damage to soil ecosystem.
This practice must be stopped by regulator. According to Sri Tony Mitra, Former Keynote Speaker at March Against Monsanto, Canada, glyphosate in the lentils, originated from Canada, is suspected to enter the Indian stomach in ever increasing doses and probably it is one of the major contributing factors behind the apparent runaway increase of autoimmune diseases. This glyphosate is a powerful antibiotic that kills a lot of beneficial gut bacteria. However it fails to harm really nasty bacteria, which would have been kept in check by the beneficial ones, had glyphosate was not introduced to muck things up. Now, with beneficial bacteria gone or greatly reduced, the dangerous pathogens proliferate and create those nasty neurotoxins that are grouped together as BOTOX or Botulism neurotoxins.
Numerous regulatory agencies all over the world have practically denied the possibility of any health hazard due to glyphosate and few scientists also have advocated that the GM glyphosate-tolerant maize was as safe and nutritious as conventional maize. Only in 2015 the World Health Organisation’s IARC classified Glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. The researchers, based on scientific evidence, have explored the dangers of Glyphosate — harmful to both human health and the environment. Argentine scientists found that Glyphosate causes birth defects in frogs and chickens. Doctors at Paraguay & Argentina have reported on the serious ill-effects like infertility, stillbirths, miscarriage and cancer in GM Soy producing areas. A 2010 study involving Indian scientists is in possession of findings that suggest glyphosate induces carcinogenicity. Glyphosate is banned in Sri Lanka while El Salvador and Bermuda have restricted it’s import. Colombia has declared the usage of Glyphosate to come to a stop. The Chinese Army has reportedly banned all GM foods due to Glyphosate residues. Epidemiological evidence supports strong temporal correlations between glyphosate usage on crops and a multitude of cancers that are reaching epidemic proportions, including breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, thyroid cancer, liver cancer, bladder cancer and myeloid leukaemia. Also many scientists have written a series of peer reviewed papers on problems with glyphosate. So there is clear evidence that the regulatory agencies, who are responsible for defining the safety of foods, did not recommend the actual safety limit of foods based on sound scientific evidence that would ensure absolute no harm to human health. In this context, it is pertinent to recollect the warning of the famous scientist named Sri Bernhard Url — “Eroding trust in regulatory agencies will not improve democratic accountability and don’t attack science agencies for political gain(Nature553, 381, 2018)” — which brings to limelight how scientific assessment is being practically dictated by the corporate brigade.
Therefore, scientific truth must not be manipulated simply to maximize the profit of the corporate brigade at the expense of human health and environment. Despite knowing the ill effects of glyphosate, a huge amount of toxic lentils, pulses and chickpea are still being imported from countries that are using glyphosate and other synthetic chemical. The high level of pesticides including Glyphosate residues in both Indian and Canadian pulses, based on the findings of the researchers, is a matter of serious health risk to a billion plus nation, as dal is ubiquitous in our diet. In India, only the state of Andhra Pradesh has issued orders restricting the use of Glyphosate. Despite the piquant situation, the Central Government is yet to frame any policy to ensure the food products remain free of chemical contamination. Moreover in India, no well equipped laboratory, with trained analyst, is presently available for generation of reliable analytical results of presence of glyphosate in food products. Not only glyphosate, other agricultural chemicals are also continuously threatening human health and environmental components. There is emergent need to seek support, knowledge and innovation to save the environment from further destruction and humanity from even extinction.
In future, production of these foods in India will not be cost effective because of scarcity of water and loss of soil fertility due to excessive use of various synthetic chemicals. Processed foods, advertised as “best healthy food”, are not at all suitable for the human body.
In this view, organic farming is presently emerging as an alternative agricultural system or integrated farming system prohibiting the use of synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers and growth hormones. It awards stress on fertilizers of organic origin such as compost manures, green manure and emphasizes on techniques such as crop rotation. Organic farming practices are good for human health, economic prosperity, the environment and for slowing climate change. Eating a healthy diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals is a solid investment in preventive care. Preventing disease is much more cost efficient than treating it. Organic foods can play an important role in keeping people healthy. For farmers, organic farming is profitable because organic foods are in demand and also due to the price premiums they receive.
Despite the obvious benefits, several key challenges have slowed the growth of organic agriculture. Increasing public awareness about the value of organic farming and conducting research to explore the barriers and opportunities to organic farming are essential in overcoming the challenges of organic agriculture. Additional research is imperative to fill the gaps in the scientific understanding of the benefits of organic farming. Of course, sanctioning of huge public money in the name of organic farming may be projected as a “proof” to establish the concern of the Government, State apparatus, regulators and the politicians. However such “support” of organic farming will not ensure practical benefit because that State-sponsored money would not trickle down to the organic farmer at the grass root level with defined accountability and responsibility towards sustainable development addressing equilibrium among economy, society and environment . Ultimately this public money will promote the corporate brigade (procurement of equipment, seed and others that are not transparent) and contractor ( for developing site for organic farm) residing on the right side of political colours of the day; without bothering about the sustainability of organic farming by producing homemade organic manure, conserving indigenous seed and changing of soil quality and so on. In 2016, Indian state of Sikkim has achieved it’s goal of converting to 100% organic farming. Kerala, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Goa and Rajasthan are striving to shift to fully organic revolution.
In India we have succeeded in preparing organic manure utilizing aquatic plants such as Water Hyacinth, Pistia and azolla with little amount of cow dung and pond sediment at a village named Moutorh in Purulia district of West Bengal without any financial incentive to prove its sustainability,. These aquatic plants, grown in rural areas, are not contaminated with excess metals as observed in the Water Hyacinth grown in city’s drains. We have also prepared vermi-compost of these aquatic plants utilizing indigenous earthworms, thereby prohibiting introduction of new species in soil ecosystem. Application of this manure helps to grow vegetables, lentil, flower and fruits. Growth of plants in the soil, that was organically managed, has changed the soil quality for better as evident by the colour of it and presence of living organism. This improved soil quality increases the ability of crops to withstand or repel insect attack and plant disease. Of course marigold flower and holy basil (tulsi) were planted simultaneously at certain distance.. Water holding capacity was observed to be higher in this organically managed soil. In this district where rainfall patterns have become unpredictable, it is the best alternative. Most importantly, organic farming maintain water quality by using biological forms of fertilizers that release nutrients slowly, reducing nitrate leaching into ground and surface waters. It reduces pesticide exposure to farm workers and their families, enhances pollinator populations and biological diversity that is critical for the health of an environment.
Moreover, the stems of the water hyacinth, after processing, were used to produce handicrafts employing tribal community who are really expert in preparing bamboo-based domestic products. Preliminary training has made them efficient in preparing handicraft using water hyacinth.
This organic farming can serve as the backbone of the economic growth of these societies and provide a substantial part of jobs and goods addressing economic, social and environmental aspects. Extrapolation of this organic farming, as in the state of Sikkim, will ensure good healthy food on the plates of the people.
Not the overhyped (actually bankrupt and laggard) states of Punjab Gujarat Maharashtra Karnataka or Tamil Nadu; rather the unsung tiny Sikkim should be made the role model for the sake of India’s health and upcoming generation who form the spine of the society. India’s show of “might” by performing mass Yoga on streets will serve the people not a bit unless healthy food policy gets undertaken by the State to ensure economic prosperity and unpolluted environment.
Dr D P Mukherjee, Kolkata