The attempt to ban the use of the herbicide “Glyphosate” in Sri Lanka.
Posted on May 23rd, 2014

by Professor Chandre Dharmawardana, Canada

Permit me to comment on the feature by Darshana Ashoka Kumara, entitled “Lies, Cover-Ups and Complicity Kill – Governments and Corporations; Glyphosate ban lifted in Sri Lanka” dated 16th May 2014, that appeared in the Sri Lanka Guardian. Similar articles have appeared elsewhere, essentially promoting the idea that Glyphosate, a well known herbicide, should be banned in Sri Lanka to “prevent kidney disease”. The article seems to bemoan the staying (i.e., putting on hold until further review) of the push to ban Glyphosate instigated by a number of militant activists.
It should be noted that Mr. Channa Jayasumana (ChJ) , Professor Nalin de Silva and others from  the Kelaniya University had campaigned extensively claiming that arsenic found in fertilizers has contaminated the soil and the water table in the North Central Province (NCP) of Sri Lanka with arsenic. It was claimed that arsenic has caused  Kidney disease. In answer to the question why these fertilizers cause Kidney disease in the NCP and not, say in other areas where fertilizers are used heavily, the Kelaniya group claimed that the hardness of the NCP water is also simultaneously necessary for the arsenic to be effectively toxic.
However, the extensive study sponsored by the WHO showed that there were NO incriminating amounts of arsenic in the water samples collected from the NCP, or in soil samples!!! Thus the Kelaniya group has now gradually moderated  the strident nature of their previous  claim of arsenic+hardwater as the cause of kidney disease.
Arsenic is a toxin if found in amounts significantly exceeding, say,  5 parts of arsenic per billion parts of water;  the WHO chemical analysis found even less than that, after analyzing 234 samples plus another 32 samples of NCP water (for details, see where the WHO report, as well as others studies can be accessed).
Given that the Arsenic hypothesis is found to not to hold,  ChJ, now at the Rajarata University has proposed that Glyphosate, a well-known and widely used herbicide (sold under the name  “Roundup”, etc.) is the cause of Kidney disease. He claims that there is glyphosate in the NCP water table, and this, combined with the hard water of the NCP, somehow causes kidney disease in the NCP, but not in other places where this herbicide is used.
First of all, Glyphosate, is a herbicide unlike arsenic. That is, it is virtually non-toxic to animal life, being less toxic than soap (e.g., Life-Buoy soap, Sunlight soap)  to living organisms. This can be easily tested by doing a simple home experiment. Take three fish bowls, and put the same amount of water – say one liter each –  into all three. Into the first bowl add one spoon of powdered Life-Buoy soap and dissolve it thoroughly. Into the second bowl put one spoon of full-strength glyphosate. The third bowl is a “control” with nothing added. Then, add the same number of tadpoles into each bowl (or you can use a culture of amoeba, but then a microscope becomes necessary).  Leave it for a day, and examine the three bowls at the end of the day.
It will be seen that the glyphosate has had no serious effect on the tadpoles whereas the Carbolic soap has had a more serious debilitating effect. So, even a home experiment is enough to ascertain that Glyphosate is a very safe herbicide compared to even soap water.
In fact, you need 70,0000 parts of glyphosate per billion parts of water for it to be toxic, compared to just 5 parts of Arsenic per billion parts of water for arsenic to be toxic.
Furthermore, Glyphosate can also be further tested using hard water (i.e, water containing some dissolved limestone) in the home experiment;  then it is found that most of the glyphosate collects to the bottom as an insoluble slurry and so it is not absorbed by living organisms. It has even less of a oxic effect in hard water. So, contrary to hard water making matters worse, it has a protective action. Soft water causes ill health. That the hardness of water is protective is well known to scientists, and this is why all municipal water is  required by law to be brought up to a certain level of hardness. Soft water causes many illnesses including ischemic heart disease. How water quality (especially its ionicity and hardness) affect human health is not at all understood. However,  a taget  hardness of about 200 mg/l of Ca is highly desirable. My own view is that kidney disease in the NCP is caused by the excess  of phosphate fertilizers (not weedicides like glyphosate) used in the up-country agricultural regions.  Some five to ten times the needed phosphate fetilizer is being used by farmers egged on by sellers. The excess gets  washed away and are brought to the Rajarata via the Mahaweli river, its tributaries and irrigation channels. This makes the water in the NCP highly ionic (but soft) during the up-country rainy season, and makes the residents vulnerable. The way to prevent kidney disease is to regulate the sale of inorganic fertilizers to the minimum amount needed, and control the private sector via the agriculture department.

The hardness of the NCP water is a good thing as hardwater precipitates out toxins. If the NCP water had not been hard, the farmers would have been in worse circumstances.
Of course, this simple home experiment can be re-designed to be more rigorous and done in the laboratory, using micro-organisms and varying the amounts of added toxins, hardness, pH etc.  Even better, field trials using farmers actually applying Roundup can be carried out, and their urine can be analysed and detailed tests can be carried out, as has been done in many experiments available in peer-reviewed journals published by learned societies (which are independent of agro-chemical companies). For instance, see   Acquavella, J. F.; Alexander, B. H.; Mandel, J. S.; Gustin, C.; Baker, B.; Chapman, P.; Bleeke, M. “Glyphosate biomonitoring for farmers and their families: results from the Farm Family Exposure Study”. Environ. Health Perspect. (2004), vol. 112 (3), pp 321-326.
So, when even elementary experiments can be carried out to ascertain the fallacy of ChJ’s claims, we can ask “are there any experiments or counter-examples to support his claims? “.  Unfortunately he has none. He has merely raised polemic, referring to the danger of pesticides in general, or to the work of pioneering environmentalists like Rachel Carson. Here he ignores that Carson and other have NOT talked of modern Glyphosate-like weedicides, but pesticides (harmful to animal cells rather than plant cells). Furthermore, no agricultural scientist had advocated using weedicides or pesticides indiscriminately, even when free-market forces have encouraged it purely because of the profit motive.
Glyphosate acts via a mechanism unique to plants, and so it does not harm animal cells. In fact, it is clear, without the need for chemical analysis, that the NCP water is NOT polluted by glyphosate. Because, if the NCP water contained residues of glyphosate, it should kill all the green algae and water hyacinth (“Japan Jabara”) found in NCP water bodes like the Padaviya tank. Far from it, these water bodies are full of algae!!!
The campaign against Glyphosate is possibly a part of the rival trade wars that occur between different agro-chemical companies. The rivals of Monsanto (the glyphosate manufacturer) would like a market share for their products. So it is useful to them to attack and denounce the use of “Roundup”, even though they cannot provide sound scientific evidence in support of their claim. Similarly, Monsanto would like to discredit the products of their rivals.
It should be noted that not only Glyphosate or soap, but even sugar and salt, if consumed in large quantities, become toxic substances. Vitamins are good only at the right doses, and become poisons if taken in doses exceeding the recommended amounts. So, if sugar, salt and soap can be toxic, weedicides or pesticides used in the incorrect way, in excess,  can indeed be toxic. That is not what Mr. Jayasumana and his colleagues are  saying. They are claiming that the recommended use, or ANY use of glyphosate should be stopped. They propose the to ban Glyphosate. However, sensible counsel has prevailed and the government has rejected their call for banning Glyphosate. If the tea estates are to be weeded manually, we will need  several times the Indian labour force used by the British as the plantation sector has grown several times. That is, we would need close to several million more “estate labour” to weed the tea plantations.
Thus manual weeding is not a possible solution.
The available solution is to use this least toxic weedicide according to the methods stipulated by agricultural scientist, and not according to the dicta of the free-market where (as is the case now) farmers can buy pesticides, weedicides and fertilizers at will, in any amounts in the market place, and even get a government subsidy for it. It is this stupid free-market economics that is the basic cause of kidney disease (and many other ills) that ails the country.
In any case, it is clear that without an effective, cheap nontoxic herbicide (i.e., weedicide) like Glyphosate, the Sri Lankan agricultural economy will grind to a halt in a few months.

10 Responses to “The attempt to ban the use of the herbicide “Glyphosate” in Sri Lanka.”

  1. Nanda Says:

    Chandare Ayya,

    “The campaign against Glyphosate is possibly a part of the rival trade wars that occur between different agro-chemical companies. The rivals of Monsanto (the glyphosate manufacturer) would like a market share for their products. So it is useful to them to attack and denounce the use of “Roundup”, even though they cannot provide sound scientific evidence in support of their claim. Similarly, Monsanto would like to discredit the products of their rivals.”

    How many dollars you pocketed from Mosanto and the US for your betrayal of Sinhala Buddhist innocent people ?
    You own essay proves you are lying.

  2. helaya Says:

    You can not rule out roundup effect. Same thing is happening in Nicaragua among sugarcane workers where roundup being used extensively. Please do not argue with each other try to work all the scientist with concerted effort to find a solution. It is typical among Sri Lankan trying to blame each other and trying show off.

  3. mjaya Says:

    Everyone should beware of “Paid Advertisements” like this.

    If a herbicide is proven to be detrimental, it should be banned. Initially Glyphosate was falsely labelled as “biodegradable”! Also what do agent orange, dioxins, PCBs have in common? Get the picture??

    The UN itself is in the pockets of those with vested interests (no need to talk about the ugly Pilliya) so can you trust the “WHO” as being squeaky clean?

    BTW: Ven. Athureliya Ratana thero had samples tested by a Malaysian company for Arsenic. Turned out it was not only Arsenic but Mercury and Cyanide too!


  4. Lorenzo Says:

    Professor Chandre Dharmawardana is a PATRIOT.

    Lets NOT question his patriotic credentials.

    But MONSANTO and its ROUND UP are PROVEN dangers to humanity. We HAVE TO find a replacement for ROUND UP. If it is not banned, there will never be a replacement.

    There is A LOT of money in this. MONSANTO generously gives away MILLIONS for PR and universities.
    Monsanto has also BRIBED the US govt. not to investigate it.

    But many countries are now coming to realize it.

    There is a global movement against these at the moment.

  5. Lorenzo Says:

    Breaking news.

    Over 400 cities worldwide will see millions marching against the US chemical and agricultural company Monsanto in an effort to boycott the use of Genetically Modified Organizms in food production.

    Marches are planned in 52 countries in addition to some 47 US states that are jointing in the protest.


    The plan of Monsanto is to FORCE everyone to use its GM crops that resist ROUND UP totally. Other crops absorb little amount of chemicals. They will also enhance ROUND UP to destroy NON-GM crops. And spread weeds that can destroy NON-GM crops. This way MONSANTO will rule the world.

  6. Lorenzo Says:

    The latest RT article supports what SW recently wrote here.

    Monsanto owns many other influential companies.

  7. helaya Says:

    I agree100% with mjaya.

  8. aloy Says:

    I think all those top people who have stayed as secretaries controllers etc etc which directly affects peoples lives should not be given more than, say five years. Let new blood come in and have a different perspective. The myth that people become better with experience is wrong. They may be doing the wrong thing over and over again. I think the pesticide controller and secretary to MOF have stayed long enough. This country is full of other talented and capable people.

  9. Ben Silva Says:

    Vegetation and humans have a certain number of common genes as both evolved from the same origin. If herbicides can damage and kill plant cells, there is a possibility that herbicides could harm humans as well, as was shown by agent orange. Scientists may not fully understand the mechanism. It is dangerous to say that herbicides do not harm humans. There is a flaw in the Professor’s logic. Harmful chemicals should be banned. without further delay My view is that agrochemicals are causing CKDu.

  10. NAK Says:

    Prof.Dharmawardena,I am not a professor of any thing but a simple person who reads a lot to try to learn some thing. Ever since I read this essay one question keeps bothering me,and grateful if you be kind enough to clarify.
    Why,if the herbicide concerned is not harmful even as much as ‘lifebuoy or sunlight’,does the producers advice the users to wear face mask and gloves. Also advice to dispose the empty bottles in a responsible manner?
    According to you these empty bottles can be taken to the dispensary for the cough syrup?

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