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Will ‘Chowkidar’ safeguard Indians' health?

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New Delhi, June 20: India has elected a new government after hectic seven-round of Lok Sabha elections.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has returned to office with a historic mandate. People have reposed a bigger faith on their 'Chowkidar.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

It's notable that Prime Minister Modi hoften calls himself a Chowkidar, a watchman who is committed to safeguard Indians and Indias interests.

Despite Congress relentless campaign of Chowkidar Chor Hai (Watchman is a thief) over Rafale deal, the voters didn't buy it.

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The response of Modi 1.0 government after the Uri and Pulwama terror attacks won the hearts of common Indians who had only heard 'kadi ninda' (severe criticism) by the erstwhile governments after every Pakistan-sponsored gory terror attack in the country.

The strong anti-terror policy of first Modi government in Jammu and Kashmir and along India-Pakistan borders is one of the reasons that Prime Minister Modi has got mammoth mandate.

However, the role of a country' s Chowkidar is not only limited to protect the countrymen from external or internal threats.

One of his other duties is to safeguard Indians' health by framing right policies.

One of such issue is waiting for the Prime Minister or the officials of the Prime Minister Office at Change.org, a website where concerned citizens post their public interest petitions to gain attention of the governments and policy makers.

Ashwani Mahajan, a Delhi University Professor and National Co-Convenor of Swadeshi Jagran Manch, has posted a petition on Change.org and urged Prime Minister Modi to impose a nationwide ban on weedkiller glyphosate.

Till now, over 10000 people have signed the petition and Mahajan seeks signatures of another 90000 citizens to encourage authorities to take action on his demand.

Mahajan says that more than 10 people have died within 3-4 years in a small village in Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh after being exposed to glyphosate.

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"This weedkiller is killing more than weeds. It is killing human beings who come in contact with it. Not just in Uttar Pradesh, but in every state and country around the world. State like Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana have already banned it.Majority of us Indians, particularly our farmers don't know about the deadly risk of using Glyphosate," says Mahajan.

"We need to act urgently because pesticide companies are taking advantage of our ignorance. They are sending their agents to approach farmers directly and trap them with attractive promotional offers. Farmers get lured because they are told this herbicide is a cost-effective method to kill weeds quickly. What they are not told is the health hazard and risk to their lives. Our Prime Minister cares about farmers and food security. Let's ask him to ban glyphosate across the country immediately before it is too late, " he adds.

What is Glyphosate and Why is it Dangerous?

Glyphosate, commonly known by its original trade name Roundup (manufactured by Bayer, which it acquired via its $63 billion purchase of Monsanto), is the world's most widely used herbicide (weedkiller). Glyphosate-based herbicides are manufactured by many companies in many countries.

It's notable that Roundup caught attention of the world after a U.S. court ordered the RoundUp manufacturing company Bayer to pay two billion dollars (approximately Rs. 14000 crore) to a couple who had suffered from cancer after using their herbicide.

The deadly weedkiller is being sprayed on many crops by farmers, like wheat, rice, and to grow many fruits like banana and pineapple as a pre-harvest desiccant.

It is also readily available in many supermarkets and garden centres as an easy tool for gardeners at home.

United Kingdom-based Pesticide Action Network (PAN) report says, "In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) labelled glyphosate as probably carcinogenic. Independent scientific studies have also begun to reveal numerous acute and chronic effects of glyphosate-based herbicides. In addition, the ingredients (adjuvants) added to glyphosate products may be toxic. Many of these chemicals are trade secrets and we rely on the manufacturers to ensure the products have been tested to be safe. "

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It adds that glyphosate is found as a residue on many of the food products we eat. It has also been found in water, wine and beer. Testing has revealed that glyphosate is present in people's urine in Europe, and in urine and breast milk in the USA.

The PAN is for rapid phase-out of glyphosate in agriculture and support to help farmers adopt safer approaches to managing weeds.

The Bayer is facing the heat and is battling around 1300 lawsuits around the world, which claim that the herbicide causes cancer.

It has announced to spend $5.6 billion over the next decade to find alternatives to glyphosate.

However, in a statement on June 14, the company said glyphosate will continue to play an important role in agriculture and in Bayer's portfolio.

Interestingly, the organic industry-funded Environmental Working Group (EWG) issued a news release on June 12 that claimed, "Major food companies like General Mills continue to sell popular children's breakfast cereals and other foods contaminated with troubling levels of glyphosate, the cancer-causing ingredient in the herbicide Roundup."

EWG's announcement is the third of its kind focusing on the alleged dangers of glyphosate residues in our food.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to watch whether Prime Minister Modi takes any action on this larger health issue or not.

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