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ASIA/PACIFIC

Banned Swiss Pesticide Implicated In Deaths of Indian Farmers

Screen shot from a promotional video for the pesticide Polo made by Syngenta
Should a pesticide banned in Switzerland still be in use in India? Image via YouTube

Polo, a pesticide manufactured in Switzerland has been blamed for the deaths and hospitalization of farmers in India. Polo contains the active agent diafenthiuron, a pesticide that was banned in the European Union in 2002. It is believed the deceased and hospitalized farmers naturally inhaled the deadly pesticide while spraying their farm crops.

Polo is manufactured by Syngenta, which was bought by ChemChina in 2017 for $43 billion last year, the largest foreign acquisition ever by a Chinese company. However, the pesticide is still made in Switzerland and has attracted negative press from a Swiss NGO.

Outburst of Poisoned Farmers in India

Last September Indian officials in the state of Maharashtra announced hundreds of farmers in one state were hospitalized and twenty farmers were died after inhaling pesticides while spraying crops.

Following the deaths and poisonings, Swiss NGO Public Eye visited the region and said there was “strong evidence” Polo was responsible for the illnesses. Public Eye admitted the evidence wasn’t conclusive but said Polo was the common link among the stricken farmers.

Public Eye is calling for the Swiss government to instill a ban on exports of Polo. Diafenthiuron, the pesticide’s active agent, is already banned in Switzerland and any agricultural products containing the compound cannot be used in the country.

Syngenta is required under Swiss law to inform the government of the amount of diafenthiuron pesticides it produces and the countries they ship the pesticide to. The Swiss government is then responsible for informing the destination countries of the potential risks of using the pesticide.

Banned in Switzerland but OK in India?

Public Eye, however, says this is not enough, insisting that what is not good for the Swiss people should not be good for any people anywhere in the world regardless of prior warnings. The non-governmental organization demands a total ban on diafenthiuron and the products containing the agent.

Syngenta has kicked back against the claims linking Polo to the deaths of the Indian farmers. They insist the investigations are not conclusive and their pesticide is not to be blamed.

A statement from the company said that Polo “has been successfully and safely used by Indian Farmers across the country for the last 14 years,” and that mentioned that diafenthiuron is registered in 25 countries worldwide.

The company also said that in response to the illnesses in India it “conducted stewardship programs in the district and adjoining regions, conducted doctor training programs and established mobile health clinics to support treatment of farmers who may have been affected.”

State officials in Maharashtra probed the deaths and illnesses linked with Polo, but the investigations have not been made public yet.

Public Eye believes the poisoning occurred because cotton plants grew higher than normal which forced farmers to spray Polo closer to their mouths.

Swiss lawmaker Lisa Mazzone introduced a motion calling for the ban on exporting pesticides prohibited in Switzerland for health or environmental reasons.

 

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