Two years after Bihar tragedy, poisonings continue

Press Release by PAN India, PANAP, PANNA

As India marks the second anniversary of the Bihar mid-day meal tragedy today, PAN India, PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) and Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) reiterated the call to stop using poisonous pesticides in food.

The groups said that the Bihar tragedy perfectly illustrates the higher vulnerability of children to the toxic effects of pesticides. “What truly alarms us is that even after the tragic Bihar incident, similar cases of children being poisoned by the mid-day meal programs persist,” said Ms. Sarojeni Rengam, PANAP executive director.

Rengam added the manufacturers of monocrotophos such as Dow Chemicals must be held to account. “It is important to note here that WHO had urged India to ban monocrotophos earlier in 2009,” said Rengam. “If only the producers of monocrotophos and the Indian authorities had heeded the call to prohibit the use of such deadly chemicals, 23 innocents would have continued enjoying their childhood with their parents today, Rengam added.

In 2013, 23 children aged 4 to 12, were killed in a food poisoning tragedy of eating mid-day meal. Forensic examination showed presence of high toxic levels of monocrotophos, a highly hazardous pesticide.

PANAP noted that according to a detailed 2009 WHO report on the health risks of monocrotophos in India, the countries and regions that have banned its use include Australia, Cambodia, China, the European Union, and the United States. Its import is illegal in at least 46 countries. After 2 years, it still has not been completely banned in India (only banned in use of vegetable).

Poisonings related to mid-day meal program also continue in Bihar and other parts of India. The last reported incident happened as recent as 23 June in which 72 children fell ill. Often, medical reports simply describe the symptoms of the poisonings without an in-depth probe on the cause.

Sri. Jayakumar of PAN India added that in most of these incidents, due to their suddenness, the quality of the mid-day meal programme, and rural conditions, the role of pesticides in such incidents cannot be ruled out. “There must be a more stringent monitoring of pesticide usage. Amendments to the Pesticide Regulation Act should include liability clause, until the last mile, and should be brought in the next Parliament session,” Jayakumar stressed.

Dr. Medha Chandra, PANNA’s international campaign coordinator added, “Poisoning of children by pesticides happens in countries around the world, whether through food, or through exposure to pesticides drifting from agricultural fields or though pesticide contaminated soil and water or other means.”

“We really need to work towards eliminating such pesticide hazards for children everywhere,” said Dr. Chandra.

In 2014, for instance, 39 preschool children in China were poisoned, of whom two died, after consuming food that was contaminated by pesticides known as TETS, a rodenticide. Although banned in the early 1990s, this pesticide is widely used due to availability and profitability. In 2013, 49 children in Cambodia also fell ill after consuming food that was contaminated with pesticides.

“The poisonings must stop. We must challenge the authorities to ensure an environment that is safe and healthy for our children,” Rengam said.

PAN India, PANAP, PANNA and PAN International are urging governments and corporations to take concrete steps towards the phase-out and ban of HHPs, to be replaced with safe, sustainable and ecological alternative methods of pest control.

More than 300 organizations from over 80 countries in all regions of the world already signed the PAN International Appeal for a ban of highly hazardous pesticides. We urge you to sign the petition, urging government and corporations to phase out and ban highly hazardous pesticides.

Take Action >> Stop Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPS)

For more information please contacts
1. Pesticide Action Network India – C. Jayakumar (e-mail : jayakumar.c@gmail.com)
2. PAN Asia Pacific – Sarojeni Rengam (e-mail: sarojeni.rengam@panap.net)
3. Pesticide Action Network North America – Medha Chandra (e-email: mchandra@panna.org)

References :-

1. World Health Organization.(2009). Health implications from monocrotophos use: a review of the evidence in India. http://www.searo.who.int/entity/occupational_health/health_implications_from_monocrotophos.pdf
2. PANAP Monocrotophos Factsheet

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