Two types of Champions coming forward to save our farmers.
Posted on December 30th, 2016

By Bodhi Dhanapala, Quebec, Canada

 [A shorter version of this article appeared in the Island Newspaper, 29-Dec-2016]

I read the exchange between Dr. U. Waidyanatha (UW) and Dr. Kamal Wickremasinghe in the Island newspaper (7. Dec to 28th Dec, Island) regarding the so-called plight of our farmers. What is the plight of farmers” that is being discussed?

Nearly two dozen eminent  doctors, agriculturist, chemists, academics  etc., appealed to President Sirisena against the ban on Glyphosate, a popular weed killer deemed to be safe by most experts. Today  (i) the farmer’s favourite herbicide has been banned, and his fertilizer has been cut by legislators who follow a vociferous majoritarian public opinion (MPO) with a fear of agrochemicals; (2) but alternative organic” fertilizers or herbicides are not available; (3) the farmer cannot sell his  paddy because the MPO says  that the rice is  full of toxins” like arsenic, cadmium and glyphosate while the mainstream scientists say, no, your rice is good and safe”; (4) the weed killer glyphosate, said to cause  kidney disease is banned, but the farmers  are still falling ill; (5) meanwhile the weeds  grow and the farmer  has no extra manual labour; (6) he is broke and his health is failing. (7) He cannot sell his land and go to a healthy place because of colonization rules which prevent him from selling his land!

This is the plight of the farmer, also eloquently reported by Victor Ivan (7 Aug. 2016, Ravaya).

Dr. UW is a veteran agriculturist who lives in Kandy and  has served  the coconut,  rubber, and paddy growers for decades,  dedicating his life to agricultural science. Dr. Kamal Wickremasinghe (KW) is  a socio-political  columnist living in Canberra, Australia. As far as I know, KW is not an agriculturist although he had studied some agriculture and later worked for the Australian police. He is an articulate spokesman for the  majoritarian public opinion (MPO), while Dr. UW represents the view of  main-stream agricultural science. I am a science writer for the popular press,  and lecture in a technical college. So I stand between the two mindsets and present my observations on the controversy.

A recent Sirara-Pethikade  interview (23-12-2016, http://sirasatv.lk/pathikada-23-12-16/ ) of  Professor Dharmawardana (a past Professor at Sri Jayawardenapura  and a pioneer in food science in Sri Lanka)  is also very germane to the discussion. Prof. Dharmawardana  points out that  main-stream scientists (MSS)  and the MPO are often at loggerheads on matters in science policy. MSS opposed tobacco and pointed out, already in late 19th century that tobacco was injurious to health. But the public adored the cigarette until  recently, with film stars and politicians giving an image of glamour to smoking– it was stylish and cool” to smoke! Mainstream academics like Prof. John Yudkin pointed out, 6 decades ago that sugar is a deadly substance. It is only now that the public is giving  faint support for cutting the sugar in pop drinks, cutting  down Kiri-Paeni (curd-treacle) and sweets.  Main-stream scientific opinion has argued against eating meat since at least 1970.  Red meat has also been classified as a class-II carcinogen by the International Agency for Research into Cancer (IARC), i.e., exactly in the same hazard class as the weed killer glyphosate. But no one has come forward to ban red meat.

The IARC is mandated to signal a health Hazard, and not a health Risk. All open flames are fire hazards, but not necessarily a fire risk – for example, a flame in a safety lantern is not a fire risk.  A health HAZARD becomes a health RISK only if people are exposed to the hazard above a threshold. Eating too much” red meat (i.e., going above a threshold) becomes a health risk. Petroleum and diesel fumes are regarded as much more dangerous than  class-II hazards like glyphosate, since  petroleum and diesel are designated as class-I hazards AND  health risks. Strangely, no one has demanded their ban citing a precautionary principle”, although they have risen against glyphosate.

Thus we see that mainstream academics have led the warning against tobacco, sugar, consumption of fat and meat.  However, agrochemicals are are a different kettle of fish, being both good and bad.  The green movement began in the 1970s, heralded by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring”. It  created a public mindset that is ever suspicious of all agrochemicals, and even pasteurization of milk, fluoridation of municipal water or vaccinations. That the  environment is polluted” is a common Majoritarian Public Opinion (MPO). Health-food & back-to-nature websites, and the internet blogs of  self-styled  alternative” medical-gurus like Dr. Mercola are very popular and extremely lucrative to the Mercola types.  Warnings have been raised that Dr. Mercola” should be considered a quack and allegedly courts have sanctioned him ( https://www.quackwatch.org/11Ind/mercola.html). It was Dr. Mercola who fanned the unsubstantiated claim of Jayasumana and others that the week killer glyphosate causes kidney disease.

Given these concerns about food, water and toxins, some of the public have become so frightened that they drink only bottled water even in modern municipalities, or install reverse-osmosis machines in their homes in Colombo. They want  agrochemicals banned claiming a precautionary principles”. Dr. Kamal Wickremasinghe’s line of thinking fits this majoritarian public mindset which is not only militant,  but accuses main-stream scientists of being agents of agro-business – mercineries. Dr. KW’s accusations against UW and other scientists are sweepingly general and simaliar to Donald Trump’s branding all Mexicans as rapists, rogues and drug dealers. KW refers to Alastair Macintosh’s silly article of 1996 to take arms against the mercenaries”– i.e., main stream scientists.

KW generalizes the discussion about mercenaries and glyphosate to cover the alleged loss of traditional rice varieties”, and in the same breath declares that the Green revolution is a fraud. Such extreme positions are standard beliefs of the lunatic fringe of the green movement, and  prevent anyone from mounting a meaningful dialogue. Nither Macintoch, nor KW is probably aware that it was the mainstream scientists at Bathalaoda who preserved the germ lines of the traditional rice varieties. Furthermore, if not for the work of the Bathalagoda and Kundasle scientists from 1920 onwards,  providing food for this nation, the nation would have lost not just its traditional rice varieties, but a good part of its people. But that is a long story. The erroneous information probably went to Dr. KW in Canberra  from Alastair Macintosh in Scotland, who got it from the Indian eco-lunatic fringe led by the activist Shiva Vandana via her Sri Lankan acolytes. It is a pity that KW did not visit Bathalagoda to get the facts from the source.

It is simply NOT true that main-stream academics  are in the pay of the agro-business. In fact, university scientists have been zealous watch dogs of environmental incursions, and participate extensively in international regulatory bodies like the WHO.  Furthermore, facing the fact that columnists like KW will accuse scientists of being mercenaries,  main-stream scientists have fearlessly come forward to defend the use of the very simplest  mineral fertilizers (rock phosphate, Urea, Nitrate) and a well-known popular herbicide known as Glyphosate whose use is inextricably linked with  genetically modified (GMO) foods that are now common in North America. Some 117 Nobel laureates, writing to the  Washington Post on 4th July 2016 rebuked advocacy-organizations like Greenpeace for false propaganda and for funding skewed experiments designed to support their preconceived positions.

So are these Nobel Laureates just paid agents of agri-business? Mere cheap mercenaries?   Interestingly, Dr. KW comes up with references falling into the category of skewed experiments? All the available data were evaluated by the Joint Committee on Pesticide Residues (JCPR) of the WHO and the FAO when they issued their risk assessment on May 16th, 2016. Owing to the misunderstandings created by the IARC classification of Glyphosate as a Class-II carcinogen, many governments including  Australia and New Zealand (NZ) reviewed Glyphosate once again. The report issued by NZ  should interest Dr. KW living in Australia.   NZ evaluated all the research available by 2016 and the judgement was that Glyphosate posed absolutely no health risk. I give below (item 3) a video of a TV debate in Canada where one of the very authors of the IARC report that classified glyphosate as a health Hazard explaining that it is not a health Risk by any means to Canadian farmers who use it.

  1. Report of the JCPR, May, 2016: http://www.who.int/foodsafety/jmprsummary2016.pdf
  2. Report of the NZ-government, August 2016: http://www.epa.govt.nz/hazardous-substances/pop_hs_topics/glyphosate_learn/Pages/default.aspx
  3. Review of the Glyphosate debate by Canadian Scientists: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pE_vjC0z-z4

The majority of scientists are agreed that the consumption of water from a certain shallow household wells is the cause of kidney disease and they have presented empirical evidence for it. They also consider that agrochemicals have nothing to do with it. In fact, it is common to find farmers in the SAME village, and using the same agrochemicals, getting the disease and others in the SAME village not getting the disease, depending on which well they use for drinking water. But Dr. KW is persuaded that it is glyphosate and arsenic, because a new breed of intellectuals” (led by a psychic lady in Kelaniya who claims to communicate with God Natha, and some politicians) have said so, although so far without evidence. It was this claim that was sensationalized by the notorious but popular blog of Dr. Mercola who panders to public fears. Dr. KW even senses a  battle between Peradeniya elites” and others! That is enough for him to invoke the precautionary principle and call for a ban on the weed killer, and to also declare those who hold the opposite opinion to be mercenaries!

2 Responses to “Two types of Champions coming forward to save our farmers.”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    Thank you Dr Kamal Wickremasinghe for exposing the truth.

    These wells were not like this for millennia. Surely something changed.

    The bomb was dropped in Nagasaki more than a half century ago but people still suffer its impact. Therefore there is no causal connection between the glyphosate ban and an immediate end to kidney disease.

    Now the initiator of glyphosate mass production is producing seeds resistant to its own herbicides, etc. In other words, it means this company is producing chemicals that kill all other varieties of food crop than what it produces! Sri Lanka’s indigenous rice varieties (Kalu Heenati, Murungakayan, Kuruwee, Gonabaru, Dikwee and Suwandel) and enhanced varieties (e.g. Bathalagoda). This is a sure attempt to monopolise grain production throughout the world.

  2. S.Gonsal Says:

    “…..a well-known popular herbicide known as Glyphosate whose use is inextricably linked with genetically modified (GMO) foods that are now common in North America.

    As the popular brand name of Glyphosate (Roundup) suggest, we use ti to get rid of “all the plants” in the area as its capability limit permits and it has nothing to do with GMO foods. Most popular usage in urban areas is to get rid of all the plants in unclontrolled growth areas of gardens.

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