Doctors turn activists in Paraquat poisoning

Thanks to their efforts, the number of fatalities from the agricultural herbicide has fallen at VIMSAR

It may appear strange to see a few young doctors with stethoscopes around their necks talking to relatives of patients on the use of a particular herbicide in agricultural fields. Yet, this can be seen regularly in the corridors of the Veer Surendra Sai Institute of Medical Sciences and Research (VIMSAR) here.

What made these doctors take up such a subject? The VIMSAR, a major public healthcare centre for western Odisha and parts of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, has registered 157 deaths, mostly of farmers, since September 2017. The reason behind these deaths is the consumption of Paraquat — a herbicide used in agricultural fields. The tragedy stirred the conscience of young doctors, forcing them into the role of medical activists.

Fatal impact

The young doctors have undertaken hunger strikes, sent missives to their bosses, tried to sensitise the media, and held discussions with farmers’ associations. Together, they have drawn attention to the fatal impact of Paraquat — very few have survived after consuming it.

The constant pressure from the young medicos has forced the State government to withdraw its subsidy and stop the promotion of Paraquat. But what’s even more elating is the fall in the number of patients who arrive at VIMSAR with Paraquat poisoning over the last few months.

“It gives me immense satisfaction to stop people from coming to the hospital and then seeing them slowly succumbing to Paraquat poisoning, which does not have any antidote,” said Shankar Ramachandani, Senior Resident Doctor in VIMSAR, who has spearheaded the movement against use of Paraquat.

‘Not comfort zone’

“I cannot forget the episode when a woman put all her gold ornaments before me and literally touched my feet, urging me to save her husband who had consumed Paraquat. It forced us to come out of our comfort zone,” said Dr. Ramachandani.

The records say that, between September and December 2017, as many as 32 persons were admitted with Paraquat poisoning to VIMSAR. Of them, 31 did not survive, and one patient left against medical advice.

From January to December 2018, 64 patients with Paraquat poisoning came to the hospital. Of them, 59 died, one survived and four left the hospital. From January to August 2019, 53 persons were admitted with Paraquat poisoning; the doctors could not save 50 of them, while relatives shifted three patients to other hospitals.

From September 2019 till date only 24 patients with Paraquat poisoning have been admitted to VIMSAR. Of them, 17 died while six have left with the advice of doctors, and one person died outside VIMSAR.

Not all Paraquat poisoning deaths occur at VIMSAR; people could be dying in other district-level hospitals too.

No antidote

“Paraquat consumption leads to pulmonary fibrosis and patients find difficulty in respiration. Similarly, kidney failures occur. Even if a person survives, he will not be fully fit as pulmonary fibrosis worsens with the passage of time. Paraquat does not have antidote. We are treating patients symptomatically,” Dr. Ramchandani said.

The vast majority of the population in western Odisha and its bordering districts in Chhattisgarh are dependent on agriculture. Crop failures and family disturbances often drive people to look for poison to commit suicide and Paraquat, which is easily available at homes as well as in neighbourhood shops, becomes an “obvious” choice. There have also been cases of people becoming accidental victims when they absorb Paraquat while sprinkling it in agricultural fields.

“We spread the message about [the danger of] Paraquat by talking to people and conducting awareness campaigns with farmer organisations,” said Dr. Rajesh Mohanty, who also serves at VIMSAR.

VIMSAR’s medicos are demanding a complete ban on Paraquat, which is already in place in some States.


HC : ‘Use of chemicals to ripen fruits amounts to poisoning consumers’

Sending culprits to jail will have deterrent effect: HC

The Delhi High Court has observed that use of pesticides and chemicals to ripen fruits amounts to poisoning the consumer, while noting that invoking penal provisions against the culprits would have a deterrent effect.
A Bench of Justices G.S. Sistani and A.J. Bhambani said, “Using chemicals like calcium carbide to ripen mangoes is like poisoning somebody. Why should the Indian Penal Code be not invoked against them?”
“Send such persons to jail, even if for two days and it would have a deterrent effect,” the Bench said while hearing a petition initiated by the court to monitor use of pesticides on fruits and vegetables.
The High Court asked the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India [FSSAI] if calcium carbide was still being used to ripen fruits, like mangoes and sought the presence of its Chief Executive Officer to assist it on the next date of hearing.
It also asked the Ministry of Agriculture if any kit was available for consumers to test for calcium carbide at home. The Ministry replied that no such kit was available as the presence of calcium carbide can only be tested in laboratories with the help of proper equipment and additional chemicals.
The Delhi government told the High Court that it has been picking up samples from the various markets in the Capital for tests and also carrying out awareness drives. It also told the court that some of the samples were tested and no chemicals were found and the results of other sample tests were awaited.
Apart from the petition initiated by the court on its own, the High Court was also hearing two other pleas by private individuals seeking directions to the authorities to curb the use of pesticides and other chemicals on food products, especially the agricultural produce, coming into the national capital.
An earlier report by amicus curiae Rajul Jain had stated that due to excessive usage of pesticides in fruits and vegetable, “various countries have banned the import of Indian vegetables and fruits and many more were under scrutiny”.

TN : Organophosphate use high in Potato and Carrot – Study

Organophosphate use was high in carrot and potato cultivation

A study of fruits and vegetables grown in the Nilgiris has found that some of the produce might be harbouring high levels of pesticide, beyond what is considered advisable. This was mainly true of potato and carrot. The study was published in the journal Food Chemistry.

While the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) prescribes a maximum residual level (MRL) for some of the organophosphate pesticides used, it does not prescribe it for some other pesticides used in the cultivation of fruit and vegetables. Hence, the team of researchers took the maximum residual levels from European standards.

Sensitive method

Using liquid chromatography in tandem with mass spectrometry, the team developed a sensitive method to estimate the levels of organophosphates in the fruits and vegetables. “Our detection method has a limit that ranges from 0.1 microgram per kilogram to 1 microgram per kilogram. It has a higher sensitivity than methods used earlier,” says S. N. Meyyanathan from Department of Pharmaceutical Analysis, JSS College of Pharmacy, JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research, Udhagamandalam who led the study.

It is known that organophosphate pesticides such as acephate, malathion, profenofos, chlorpyrifos and quinalphos are used in the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. The study measured the levels of these pesticides in 659 samples of fresh fruit and vegetables collected during the agricultural season of 2018-2019. Samples of 18 varieties of fruit and vegetable were collected from four cities of the Nilgiris – Ooty, Gudalur, Kothagiri and Coonoor. Of these, the researchers did not detect pesticides in approximately 57% of the samples. Close to 34% had pesticides used below the MRLs and the remainder — about 8% — showed usage of pesticides above the MRLs.

Potato and carrot

Of the 659 randomly picked fruit and vegetable samples studied, 53 had higher levels of pesticide. These were mainly in strawberry, potato, cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, garlic and broccoli. “About 85% of these samples contained chlorpyrifos, which was the most common, followed by quinalphos at 72%, acephate at 56.6%, profenofos at 54% and malathion at 17%,” says S.T. Narenderan who is a PhD student in JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research and the first author of the paper. Among the varieties of vegetables and fruits studied, potato and carrot had the highest usage of these pesticides. “It is essential to control and reduce the level of pesticide. Residual monitoring in fruits and vegetables is important to ensure minimal pesticide residue level to safeguard consumer health,” says Narenderan.

Consumer alert : Wash Fruits & Vegetables To Get Rid Of Pests & Pesticides

Did you know that cucumbers, apples, strawberries, grapes, spinach, and potatoes are some of the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables?

While this may come as a surprise to some, it is no secret that the food grown in our farms is sprayed with chemicals to prevent crop loss due to pest attack and increase yield.

Thus, it is vital to rinse vegetables and fruits. If consumed without proper washing, it can lead to health issues and food-borne illnesses.

Here are some steps you should take to get rid of dust, chemicals and pesticides from your fruits and vegetables:

Please Note: Start by washing your hands with soap. If your hands are dirty, then you might end up making the fruits and vegetables dirtier.

1. Cold and Running Water

This is probably the most common method used to remove dirt across Indian households. Remove the packaging and stickers and rinse the vegetables properly.

For firm veggies, remove the grime with your hands after washing them in running water.

Meanwhile, bathe leafy vegetables. Soak the vegetables in a bowl of water for a few minutes, remove the dirt with your hand, and rinse them. Do this process twice.

The best way to clean mushrooms is to use a damp cloth as putting them under a running tap can disfigure it. Do not forget to pat dry.

Wash fruits like grapes, apples, guavas, plums, mangoes, peaches and pears at least two to three times.

2. Vinegar and Water

A solution of 10 per cent white vinegar and 90 per cent water is another cleaning method. Soak the vegetables and fruits for 20 minutes, stir them and then rinse them with plain water.

This will keep your veggies fresh for longer without spoiling them.

3. Salt/Baking Soda with Water

This is an alternative to the vinegar solution.

Add one teaspoon of salt or baking soda in a litre of water and soak the veggies for about 2-5 minutes. Fruits take longer, so soak them for about 30 minutes. The solution will remove the pesticide from the skins of fruits and vegetables.

4. Blanching

Source: Cooking Guide/Youtube

Blanching is a process where food items are immersed in hot water, followed by cold water.

Boil water in a pan and turn off the flame. Immerse your veggies in the pan for not more than three minutes. It stops enzyme actions, which can cause loss of flavour, colour and texture.

To stop the cooking, quickly transfer the veggies into a bowl of ice cubes or run cold water over them.

5. Make a Vegetable Spray

Representative image. Source: Pexels

With DIY in vogue, why not make an organic spray that can kill the bacteria on fruits and veggies?

Mix one tablespoon of lemon juice, two tablespoons of white vinegar, and one cup of water. Remember to store this solution in a non-plastic bottle, like a glass jar.

Shake well before use and rub the solution on food with your hands or a vegetable brush for about 30 seconds. Rinse it with cold water.

“From the time your food is harvested on the farm until it comes to your table, it has been touched by several people and stored in numerous places. The warehouse could have insects and rodents, and the vendor may not have kept their place clean. Even if you buy organic produce, which is less risky, wash it. Be careful while washing and make sure you are not eliminating fibre content like the skins of fruits and veggies,” Preeti Sinha tells The Better India. She’s the founder of Hyderabad-based Greens and More, a startup that provides tailored healthy meals.


With the above steps, we hope you can also keep your food clean and healthy, thereby absorbing their benefits fully.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)


Consumer alert : Excessive pesticides in Agriculture make livestock vulnerable to Aflotoxin contamination

Some years ago an NGO was asked by the state government to run a gaushala in Patiala. They did, on condition that the food would be supplied to the cows by the municipality. Accordingly, an individual was given the contract for chara (green fodder) which he bought from farmers and supplied it to the gaushala. One day, after eating the chara, 18 cows died within an hour.

Instead of holding an enquiry and seeing what was wrong with the chara, the municipal commissioner buckled under the pressure of “gausevaks” and arrested the NGO caretakers of the gaushala. The “gausevaks” seized the gaushala and began to run it. Another 40 cows died and then the gaushala was closed down. A typically Indian way of solving a problem. Not one person in the municipality held the farmers, or the chara contractor, responsible for giving poisoned feed to the cows.

 Excessive pesticides in agriculture make livestock vulnerable to aflatoxin contamination; affected dairy products can cause cancer in humans

Cow shelter in Barabanki. ANI

I would have done an enquiry into two things: the pesticides that were being used to grow the feed and the aflatoxin contamination of the crop.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has done a detailed survey of milk across India and released the results in October 2019. They found that a large amount of milk had aflatoxins, dangerous carcinogens, in it, far beyond the permissible limit. The highest rates of aflatoxin contamination were found in Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Kerala.

Aflatoxins are 20 toxins produced by mould (fungi) of the genus Aspergillus, namely, A. flavus, A. parasiticus and A. nomius. Aflatoxin B1 is the most predominant form in aflatoxin-contaminated crops. When cows, buffaloes, sheep, goats eat feed contaminated with aflatoxins B1 and B2, aflatoxins M1 and M2 will be formed in their livers and excreted in milk. This is drunk by you.

Aflatoxins cause both acute and chronic toxicity. Aflatoxins B1 and M1 are the most potent and can cause acute liver damage, cirrhosis and cancer. They have been classified as carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Aflatoxins-producing moulds affect crops in warmer parts of the world. Peanuts, maize and cottonseeds are most frequently incriminated, but it is also found in wheat, cassava, oilseeds, fruits, wines, legumes. The moulds (Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus) grow in soil, decaying vegetation, hay, and grains. The optimal growth temperature is 25ºC, but already at 10-12º C the fungus starts to grow.

Droughts make the crops even more susceptible to Aspergillus infection. But it can occur at any time: After the crops are harvested, contamination can occur during storage when there is delayed drying, or when the moisture level is high. Rodents and insects in the silos facilitate mould infestations. Aflatoxin contamination can occur along the entire food chain, starting from the field, during storage, and transportation and processing.

Animals fed contaminated food pass aflatoxins into eggs, milk and meat. Milk is the most important source of aflatoxins in the human food chain, containing both M1 and B1.

Once the aflatoxins are in the milk they cannot be removed by boiling, pressure cooking or pasteurization.

Cancer is not the only problem. Food containing aflatoxin concentrations, of just one milligram per kilogram, can cause aflatoxicosis which causes nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and convulsions in the short term and acute liver failure, jaundice, lethargy, eventually leading to death, according to a WHO study in February 2018.

“Based on past outbreaks, it has been estimated that when consumed over a period of 1–3 weeks, an Aflatoxin B1 dose of 20–120 microgram per kilogram (μg/kg) by weight per day is acutely toxic and potentially lethal,” the study says.

And that’s not all. A study, conducted in Nairobi, Kenya in August 2018, stated that aflatoxin contamination had severe health impacts on milk drinkers, causing stunting in children under the age of five years. “The exposure to AFM1 from milk is 46 nanogram per kilogram (ng/day) on average, but children bear higher exposure of 3.5 ng/kg bodyweight per day (bw/day) compared to adults, at 0.8 ng/kg bw/day. This causes stunting among children,” the study said.

According to FSSAI standards, the permissible limit of aflatoxins in milk is 0.5 µg/kg. The FSSAI survey showed that about 10 percent of the milk samples were contaminated. Imagine 10 percent of India’s population, that drinks milk, taking this poison in daily. Around 38 percent of lakhs of children are now stunted according to government figures.

Aflatoxins are also mutagenic. Which means they damage our DNA, cause it to mutate and set into motion a problem that will affect all the coming generations of the family.

They are even more dangerous for animals, who die immediately after convulsing or develop cancer. The first aflatoxins were discovered in England in 1961 when 100,000  turkeys died suddenly. Contaminated peanut meal feed was found to be the source of the outbreak.

What should we be teaching farmers? To store grains properly so there is no mould growth. To check their fields to see that there is no mould growth. Do we do this? No. The presence of aflatoxin M1 (AFM1), in milk and dairy products throughout the world, has been known for over thirty years and is a special problem in India. But no attempt has been made to deal with it.

Do we care what we feed our cows and buffaloes? No – as long as the quantity is there, who cares about the quality. Feed and fodder are not regulated in India. While 60 countries, including India, have put a maximum level of 0.05  μg/kg milk and the EU has put the same level for feed that is given to dairy cattle, India has no laws for fodder

A system should be in place to check fodder, and this should be made mandatory for dairy milk producers. Milk should be tested daily, instead of once in ten years, by FSSAI. Rapid screening of fresh, stored, pasteurized milk, liquid or powdered milk, cheese, needs the ELISA, TLC or HPLC test. If an alert has been signalled, the farmer must withdraw the products and suspend delivering milk to the market.

Poor storage conditions and practices can also lead to fungal contamination. The most effective method to control AFM1 concentration in milk is by applying standard Good Agricultural and Storage Practices during pre- and post-harvest conditions. Strict regulations, and adapting good storage practices in developed countries, have minimized the contamination of AFM1 in milk and dairy products. Because AFB1 contamination levels vary with year and climate, it may be useful to develop an AFB1 monitoring programme that takes into account climatic conditions, and pre-harvest feed quality, during its growing season. There is an urgent need to control aflatoxins, especially in urban and peri-urban areas where cattle are stall-fed.

Most farmers know nothing about aflatoxins and, certainly, no dairy owners know that milk can be contaminated. You, as the consumer, know the least of all. A national awareness programme is important.

Since it is the main nutrient for babies and young children, the occurrence of AFM 1 in commercially available milk, and milk products, is a serious health problem. Don’t give your children milk. Stop bringing it into the house.



Pesticides restrictions may benefit Tea sector

Tea, having chemicals like Ethion, Tetradifon and Triazophos, are denied entry into the US as well.

The move stems from the government’s concerns over the sale of spurious seeds and pesticides and the Pesticides Management Bill would seek to regulate the pesticide sector by fixing prices and setting up a regulatory authority.
At a time when the demand for organic agri products, including tea, is heading northward worldwide, the Centre seems to well set to bring in and pass two long pending bills — the Pesticides Management Bill, that will replace the Insecticides Act, 1968 and the Seeds Management Bill. The move stems from the government’s concerns over the sale of spurious seeds and pesticides and the Pesticides Management Bill would seek to regulate the pesticide sector by fixing prices and setting up a regulatory authority.
In less than a year ago, India lost nearly 26 per cent of its tea business to the US with the US revising its permissible pesticides’ list, and a major portion of Indian orthodox tea, meant for the US exports, getting disqualified for a US entry. Going by the Tea Board of India statistics, Indian tea exports to the US declined by 33 per cent — from 11.68 mkg to 7.84 million kg (mkg), while income from exports to the US during the period was down 26 per cent — from $48.40 mn to $35.97 mn. Mind you that Indian orthodox teas, under normal circumstances, fetch one of its best prices in the US which usually hover around $ 4.60 a kilo. It is more than 50 per cent higher than what a kilo of the average Indian tea sells for every year.
It is not just the US, but the European Commission also defines MRL as the highest level of a pesticide residue that is legally tolerated in or on food or feed when pesticides are applied correctly. While 34 different varieties of chemicals, used in pesticides and for treating the tea leaves are permitted, chemicals like DDT and Lindane are banned in the US. The licence permitting Endosulfan has also expired and is not likely to be renewed. Tea, having chemicals like Ethion, Tetradifon and Triazophos, are denied entry into the US as well.
The Tlabs chain of research laboratories, operated by the Tea Research Association (TRA) has been strictly monitoring tea quality and pesticides residue level under the Foods Safety Standards Authority of India (Fssai). The TRA-operated Tlabs chain has also got Fssai accreditation to do that. These Tlabs operate on both ends to investigate quality of tea according to pesticides parameters in one lab and quality parameters in the other lab. Various quality parameters being monitored by Fssai include pesticide residues, presence of heavy metals, iron fillings and toxic substances.
Tlabs also has collaboration with various industry bodies across the world that deal with tea including Tea & Herbal Infusions Europe, UK, the Iran Tea Association. Significantly, both the UK and Iran are large importers of Indian tea. Indian tea exporters are currently worried over increasingly erratic payments from Iran owing to the banking sanctions imposed by the United States. However, these worries and anxieties notwithstanding, India exported 41 mn kg of tea to Iran in the first eight months of 2019, up from 18 mn kg exported in the first eight months of 2018.

Poison on a platter

70% of tainted veggies had banned pesticides

FSSAI report : Pesticides a major component of city’s staple

FSSAI Order on Testing of Pesticides In Imported Black Pepper