Supporting chemical industries and obstructing research on CKD a crime against humanity

Dr. Jayasumana, in an exclusive interview with the Daily FT, soon after he returned from the International Monsanto Tribunal held in The Hague recently, has urged the Government to form a Police unit like FCID to investigate how some of the top officials, including academics and
politicians, have hoodwinked the people about the reality of the CDK. “Thousands of farmers are dying due to CKD while those who have been appointed to probe the real causes are hiding the truth. This is a crime against humanity,” stressed Dr. Jayasumana, who is conducting another research on the increase of oesophageal cancer among female tea pluckers in the up-country.

Following are the excerpts of the interview:

By Shanika Sriyananda (Daily FT) 

Cartoons added by TW from Internet

Q: Can you tell about the International Monsanto Tribunal, held in The Hague in mid-October?

A: It was a public trial where 30 witnesses with their lawyers and scientists from five continents presented their cases against Monsanto, the American multinational agrochemical company. They presented their testimonies before an internationally-renowned panel of judges. The testimonies were on health effects due to Monsanto produced chemicals. The main focus was for the Monsanto produced DDT, PCB, genetically modified seeds and ‘Roundup’, a herbicide based on chemical glyphosate.

Testimonies of more than 10 glyphosate-related cases were presented at the Tribunal. Colombia and Argentina have strong evidences to show that certain types of cancers are caused due to glyphosate usage in crop cultivation. A huge area was sprayed with glyphosate herbicide in 2000. After two years they had observed congenital abnormalities among the calves. Most of them were born without eyes and limbs.

Sadly, after five years, the newborn babies in that area are having congenital abnormalities like no upper limbs, no nose, no mouth, cleft lips

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and cleft palates. They have enough credible evidence to show that the grave outcome was due to aerial spraying of glyphosate.

Sri Lanka’s case, which showed a link between the epidemic Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) among paddy farmers and glyphosate-based herbicide, was well heard and media too has given a wide publicity. There, we have emphasised that glyphosate was not the only cause for the epidemic but according to our findings, glyphosate-based herbicide plays a major role in the wide spread of CKD in the country’s agricultural areas.Image result for chemical industry cartoon

Q: You said your research has found that glyphosate-based herbicide is one major cause. Can you elaborate more on this?

A: Yes, now we have very concise theory to explain the occurrence of the disease, why it emerged in the mid-1990s and why it is confined to certain geographical areas of Sri Lanka. Our main concern is to find out the causes of the epidemic.

We have categorised possible causes in a 3×3 model to explain the CKD epidemic, which is increasing among paddy farmers in Sri Lanka. Poverty and malnutrition and also the hardness of the ground water (calcium, magnesium) and high fluoride levels have been identified as two major background factors.

In certain populations they are more prone to the disease due to genetic factors. They are the people from Kothmale and Hanguranketha, who had migrated to Mahaweli areas during the Mahaweli Development Schemes. They are originally from Kothmale, Hanguranketha areas and wet zone where they lived there for centuries under good climatic conditions. But, with the suddenly change in the environment, they were exposed to harsh climatic conditions and they couldn’t sustain in the hot climate. Since they are genetically not adapted to tolerate toxins, dehydration and other factors, they are hence more prone to the disease.Image result for chemical industry cartoon

These background factors will not be activated without having three essential factors – heavy metals from imported phosphate fertilisers, herbicide residues and surfactants (from glyphosate and paraquat) and insecticides.

Then there are three aggravating factors – heat stress and dehydration, infections (leptospirosis and hanta virus) and snake bites. Due to the hot humid climate they are subjected to chronic repeated dehydration. Any toxins in the body are damaging the system when one is exposed to hot humid climate because due to sweating body’s water level will be reduced while the kidneys are trying to retain more water. At the same time the renal system would be damaged more. This is an aggravating factor. It has been very clearly shown in animal studies that heat stress is a very important factor to enhance the toxicity of pesticides.

Among the essential factors the first is the herbicide and its surfactants. Not only glyphosate per se but some other additives like surfactants, which are also toxic, cause renal failure. The commercially-available herbicide basically has two components – the active substance plus additives.

Initially, we carried out an epidemiological study, in which we have found the occurrence of the disease is five times higher among people who consumed glyphosate-based herbicides. Then we did an analytical study and found that the glyphosate residuals are in the biological samples, including urine samples. At the same time we analysed drinking water in those areas and found the same glyphosate in drinking water – well water, where ground water is contaminated with glyphosate and surfactants. Our findings were published in ‘Environmental Health,’ a well-reputed, high indexed, peer reviewed international journal.

As a Buddhist I am reluctant to carry out studies using animals but there are two significant studies using mice. The first study was done by Prof. Seralini’s group of France, which found mice which are fed with an ultra-low dose of Roundup showed renal tubular damage. The histopathology of that study was more or less similar to the histopathology of the patients in Sri Lanka who have CKD. Another similar study was published by Prof. Ayanthi Navaratne’s group of the Department of Chemistry of the University of Peradeniya and had almost reproduced the same results of Prof. Seralini.

Q: Is ‘Roundup’ the major cause for CKD?

A: With all these studies, it is proven ‘Roundup’ herbicide causes certain amount of damage to the renal tubules but still we can’t say that it is the only cause since there are other chemicals present in the samples, which are also known as nephrotoxines like cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals. Glyphosate-based herbicides and surfactant is an essential factor but not the only factor.

The pathetic situation is that there are certain segments who claim that our findings are just hypothesis and are based on speculations and imaginations. Yes, we have published the hypothesis in well-accepted journals and then we have produced sufficient evidence to support our hypothesis. Therefore, it has now become a theory.

Q: Did the Government decide to ban glyphosate-based herbicides following the outcome of this research?

A: Yes, these research outcomes helped the Government to take the decision. It is being appreciated by many international scientists. Initially, the ban was imposed during the latter part of the previous Government and then the new Government made it as an islandwide ban. President Maithripala Sirisena, especially as a politician who represents a CKD-hit district, has taken a correct decision to ban this carcinogenic chemical to save thousands of lives.

Q: Minister of Plantations Navin Dissanayake has asked to lift the ban to import only a required amount of glyphosate as it has badly affected the tea industry. Your comments?

A: This is not practical as the Government can’t lift the ban only to import glyphosate to use in tea plantations. The major issue is when glyphosate is used in tea plantations, it will contaminate river water. Tea is the major export earner of the country and we have a good market for tea in the West as our Sri Lankan tea is now free of glyphosate. When glyphosate is used again, we will lose this market. The West rejects any glyphosate-based products as the WHO has announced that it is a possible carcinogenic substance.

Scientists are doing further research to prove that glyphosate is carcinogenic. At the same time we detected prevalence of oesophageal cancer among the female tea pluckers is high. We are doing an epidemiological study in Nuwara Eliya, Dickoya, Nawalapitiya, Kandy and Badulla hospitals. We suspect that these females, who were working for over eight hours on terrains which are sprayed with weed control chemicals, have developed cancer as they have been exposed to polluted air with toxic chemicals daily for over 20 years.

As a politician who represents the upcountry people, Minister Dissanayake needs to seriously consider withdrawing the request to lift the ban on glyphosate herbicide.

Q: The number of CKD patients differs and no authentic information is available. Do you have the real statistics of these patients?

A: Yes, non-availability of a proper database on CKD patients is an issue. We have found that there are 90,000 CKD patients who don’t have diabetes or anything other ailments that led to CKD and the death toll is 24,800. The Presidential Task Force says 69,000 people have CKD. We have gathered information through Government Agent Office, Grama Niladharis, Samurdhi Niladharis and also from the doctors. I don’t say this is the exact figure but it will be the rough figure.

Q: You once claimed that there is a mafia in the chemical industry. Could you explain?

A: Yes, absolutely there is a big mafia in the chemical industry. They are trying their best to silence those who speak against toxic chemicals. They have become more powerful since 2012. A certain association, which is a collective of chemical companies, has published a newspaper advertisement asking us to withdraw our findings and threatening us that they would take us to courts while they didn’t have sufficient evidence to go before court. Ultimately, Sri Lanka Customs had found that these companies guilty and fined them. These companies are still active and now they have hired some local scientists to promote different hypothesis about what causes CKD. These hired scientists now say CKD is spreading due to natural fluoride in water.

It is a shame that the former Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, a Professor, is a member of the Director Broad of a leading agro-chemical company. In 2016, the WHO held a conference to discuss preventive measures to curb CKD. Unfortunately, this particular Professor had been appointed as the Head of the Committee. How can you expect meaningful recommendations from a Committee headed by a Board Director of a leading agro-chemical company, which is a proxy of Monsanto? I was in the forum and I strongly expressed my objections but this Professor is still the Chairman of that Committee. This is how the agro-chemical mafia operates in this country. What does this Professor have to do with CKD?

During the previous Government, a Cabinet Ministerial Committee was appointed to find out the causes and preventive measures for spreading of CKD. The Chairman of the Committee was a senior minister while his brother is the owner of a pesticide company. Can the recommendations of these committees be unbiased?

A few weeks ago, the collective of the chemical industries, in a half-page advertisement, announced that glyphosate doesn’t have any links to CKD and they have quoted the WHO. I was there at the meeting and nothing came up to say there was no link between glyphosate and CKD. The advertisement was incorrect and misleading. No one has corrected it so far.

These agro-chemical companies have hired some academics to work for them. I will expose their names soon. They are worried about the ban because glyphosate has the biggest market in Sri Lanka.

Q: Do you say these companies influence the researchers on CKD?

A: Yes, very much. Prof. Seralini was subjected to enormous pressure urging her to withdraw her research paper from the journal. She was helpless and had to do so. Later, another scientist was appointed as the Editor of that particular journal. This is the behaviour of those multinational chemical companies.

Q: For several years you have been fighting against them. Will you be too silenced due to pressure?

A: No, I will not be in their pocket and will not suppress my voice in fear of them. They keep on attacking us via different means. They have already launched a mud-slinging campaign against us. These companies have influenced our research grants.

I got threatening calls from some agro-chemical companies in 2012 and I lodged complaints. Now they don’t threaten us directly but continue to do so through indirect ways. But I will not stop my endeavour until these innocent farmers and their families get some relief. I will continue to speak to save our future generation from CKD.

I wrote my book ‘Wakugadu Satana’ (‘The Battle against Kidney Disease’) as I wanted to expose the reality during the last five to six years. I have exposed how those academics have double standards in addressing this epidemic.

Q: Do you mean to say that the ban on glyphosate will be lifted due to pressure from those companies?

A: President Sirisena’s decision to ban glyphosate is commendable but I have my doubts whether the Government will be able to maintain the ban as they are strongly pressurising the Government from several fronts. They use academics, cabinet ministers and scientists to lobby against the ban. Most of them who are aligned with those companies do not have clean hands. They have hands in the agro-chemical industry and work with vested interests. I am ready to expose them and their scandals.

Q: How has this situation affected research on CKD?

A: Yes, this has affected new research due to lack of funding. The researchers will not get funding if they do research on agro-chemicals or pesticide-related research. Those who want to do research on food and water or CKD are reluctant to commence their research knowing that they will not receive research grants. They are not willing to take risks like us. Due to the influence of those agro-chemical companies, the researchers have kept away from those fields.

Q: Recently you have published a paper and came up with another term for CKD. Why?

A: I don’t like to call it CKDu. We named it Chronic Interstitial Nephritis in Agricultural Communities (CINAC) and it was published in the Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation journal, a leading nephrology journal in the world. Its aetiology is not linked to diabetes, hypertension, glomerulopathies or other known causes. According to our definition, CINAC patients live and work in poor agricultural communities located in CINAC endemic areas with a hot tropical climate, and are exposed to toxic agrochemicals through work, by ingestion of contaminated food and water, or by inhalation.

When you call it CKDu, it is still unknown. This terminology is used by the industry to mislead the legal system to prevent the victims going before court to ask for compensation. When you keep the word ‘unknown’ the court can refuse granting compensation as CKD is still an unknown disease. I am saying with responsibility that certain scientists are being hired by the industry to keep the “u” factor alive.

Q: What is the estimated social and economic cost of CKD?

A: It is huge and still we can’t estimate the loss. The entire agricultural industry has been affected, most of the agricultural villages are hit by the epidemic. With no cure and still spreading to other areas of the country, the only available treatment is dialysis and renal transplant. How can we transplant over 70,000 kidneys?

It is a very pathetic situation which has eaten at the social and economic layers of the agricultural communities. Most of the patients are young and their wives have no other income generation means. Most of the children are deprived of schooling due to poverty. There are CKD orphans and the State has to look after them.

The next big question is, who is going to produce rice when the farming community is dying? The Government has to spend a massive amount of money from the health budget for dialysis, transplant and treatment.

Meanwhile, some are worried about the losses to the tea industry with the banning of glyphosate. I wonder why they lack knowledge about the cost for treating CKD patients. It is more enormous than the losses for the tea industry.

Q: What do you expect the Government to do at this juncture?

A: I think, the Government mainly needs to keep the ban alive and promote environmentally-friendly agriculture by giving incentives for the farmers. While raising awareness on the importance of environmental friendly farming among the farmers, the Government should officially announce that CKD epidemic is mainly due to chemicals.

I request the Government to commence inquires about those who support the industry and obstruct research to save the lives of our farmers. They are committing a crime against humanity. I urge the Government to form a Police arm like the FCID to bring those culprits, who try to hide true facts and develop different hypothesis to mislead the authorities, to book.

Five to six innocent farmers are dying every day due to renal failure. They are our people, it is our agriculture and it is our future. We need to take urgent measures to provide them social security by introducing new social welfare schemes. We need to provide them clean water. No insurance company will get them into their schemes as their live on death row.

Q: Will the Tribunal facilitate farmers who are affected with CKD to get international legal aid to claim compensation?

A: We got a wide publicity in the West, which wasn’t very aware about the pathetic situation of CKD. They are ready to go to international courts against these companies based on our findings. Simultaneously our farmers will be able to go before local courts to ask compensation. This is our ultimate goal of going before the Tribunal. Now, there is lots of pressure on the EU against these chemicals and I believe glyphosate will be banned in many countries within the next few years.

Saman Prasanna, a farmer representing the affected farmer community, had explained about the rapid increase of CKD disease among the farmers after introducing Monsanto’s herbicides. He requested Monsanto to grant the CKD victims, who are living with the disease and also those who had died due to CKD, a package as compensation.

We received good media coverage from the European media to Sri Lanka’s situation. We have developed international links and have joined with the lobby groups. It is a skill to manage the West. Now it is not easy for these companies to attack and isolate us as we are not alone. This is a victory for the innocent people who suffer from CKD.

Ceylon tea, which is free of carcinogenic glyphosate chemical, has fetched a good market in the European countries but if the Government allows the tea industry to use banned glyphosate again, Sri Lanka will lose the European market, asserted Dr. Channa Jayasumana, Head of the Department of Pharmacology of the University of Rajarata.

“The West rejects any glyphosate-based products as the WHO has announced that it has carcinogenic substances,” he said,

commending the decision of President Maithripala Sirisena to impose an islandwide ban on glyphosate, which he said was one of the major causes for the rapidly-spreading Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) among farmers.

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