EDITORIAL – Poison on our plate of rice: Who’s the culprit?

As Sri Lanka begins the National Poison Prevention Week, the head of the Toxicology and National Poisons Information Centre (TNPIC) officially revealed what people-friendly nutritionists and organic agriculture activists have been saying for years. TNPIC Chief Dr. Waruna Gunathilake said that according to latest medical research, toxic food was the prime cause of several non-communicable diseases including chronic kidney disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancers and lung problems.

He said as a first step towards minimizing the
toxicity of food items, farmers were being told to strictly follow the pre-harvest interval concept on applying agrochemicals.
The theme of this year’s Poison Prevention Week from November 10 to 16 will be ‘Non Communicable Diseases and Toxins’. The TNPIC chief said the farmers carelessly used agrochemicals just before the
harvesting and the pre-harvest interval had to be strictly followed.

The main sources of poison are chemical pesticides, weedicides and fertilizers. Dr. Gunatilake said that due to lack of awareness, farmers were using agrochemicals excessively beyond the recommended levels. The TNPIC was now trying to create awareness among the farmers and the people of the dangers of using excessive quantities of agrochemicals. A book of guidelines has also been issued.

While thanking the TNPIC for the initiative it is taking, organic agriculture experts say it may be a case of too little, too late. Agriculture has been part of Sri Lanka’s culture and civilization for thousands of years. Until the capitalist market economic system was imposed on us, we had heard little or nothing about expensive agrochemicals imported from multi-million-dollar transnational corporations. To a large extent agriculture has now been turned into agribusiness with profit making the number one priority, while the virtue of providing safe food and nutrition for millions of people has gone underground.

Recently the public health issues unit of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) revealed that Cuba’s foreign Minister during a visit to Sri Lanka had offered to transfer modern technology for wide scale organic farming. In Cuba the use of agrochemicals is not allowed and it has several decades of experience in fruitful organic farming. The GMOA says the Sri Lanka Government has not responded positively to Cuba’s generous offer and independent agriculture experts say the influence of the agrochemical TNCs may be one of the reasons.

By importing huge quantities of agrochemicals, some of which are toxic, the Government is wasting millions of dollars every year. Worse still, we are poisoning and polluting Mother Earth which for thousands of years has faithfully given us so much to eat and to drink so that Sri Lanka could produce healthy, productive people who would be good citizens working for the welfare and wellbeing of all the people of our country.
At a seminar held by the Medico-Legal Society on the theme, “Are we poisoning our children?” an expert speaker said the theme should be, “Are they poisoning our children” because the Government is allowing the TNCs to poison our children and all the people of our country. The crisis is so grave that with every meal we are eating a little poison and that is why most of us are falling sick more often with consultants being unable to diagnose some mystery diseases.

In addition to toxic agrochemicals, about 1200 additives have been identified with some if not most of them being toxic. These include preservatives, flavour-enhancing substances, artificial sweetners and substances for colour and texture.
Instead of bits and pieces or tackling the symptoms, the Government needs to make a firm commitment and give incentives to those who wish to venture into organic farming. Steps also must be taken for Sri Lanka to produce most of its food so that our people would have access to safe food and quality nutrition at affordable prices.

Source: Daily Mirror