Sunday, July 10, 2011

Arsenic in Rice

Is this the cause for Chronic Kidney Disease in Rajarata?

It is wrong to say that there is no Arsenic [As] in Rice. The studies shows inorganic arsenic and its related organic compounds are available in various items and sources in many countries. Prof. Meharg’s study suggests that rice from the US, France, Italy and Bangladesh has the highest levels of inorganic arsenic tested, with about 30 per cent of American long grain rice samples found to contain levels above the Chinese strict standards. He had suggested that rice from India and Egypt had the lowest levels; with basmati rice is the best type. While Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese, Chinese, Egyptian, Thai suppose to be safer, he suggest avoiding American, Italian, French and Bangladesh rice.

It is not a surprise to me when Prof. Nalin de Silva, Dr. Channa Jayasumana and other researchers found Arsenic in Sri Lankan Rice. They are not the first research team to find Arsenic in Sri Lankan rice. But the question is how the Minister of Agriculture, ITI and the other agencies assure that there is no Arsenic in Sri Lankan rice. Whatever, the controversy once again shows the inadequate and low standard testing facilities in Sri Lanka are a great danger to the health and environment.

The important question is what the primary source of arsenic in rice? One possible explanation could be natural sources. Other source is undoubtedly the industrial products such as pesticides, fungicides animal growth-promoters, preservatives in wooden timbers etc. Therefore, I do not wish to ignore the idea that pesticide is a possible source for Arsenic in rice. But one cannot conclude unless without adequate research assessing all possible causes.

Yet, is this the cause for Chronic Renal Disease unidentified etiology (CKDue)? Some researchers say “No”. Why the Kelaniya and Rajarata research team jump to the conclusion that Arsenic [As] in the pesticides when converted to Calcium Arsenate [Ca3(AsO4)2] with the hard water causes the Kidney disease. They say it is not only rice, but when they consume contaminated rice and hard water (with Calcium Carbonate [CaCO3]) it causes the problem. While the chemistry is correct, is this adequate to prove Arsenic is the reason for the Chronic Renal Failure? If Calcium Arsenate is the problem, why the patients don’t show similar symptoms to the Arsenic contamination in Bangladesh. Their skin shows brown patches and skin cracks but this is not the case in Sri Lanka.

However, as a result Sri Lanka Customs become proactive and already found nine pesticides with Arsenic. Sri Lanka does not allow importation of Arsenic pesticides since 2001. Unfortunately we have learned that Registrar of Pesticides is going to make new specification with a permissible Arsenic level and release the pesticide containers. I will not surprise if this happens. The corporations are very powerful. Whether Arsenic is the missing link to Renal deceases in North Central province or not, importation of pesticides with Arsenic is a wrong act. All citizens have the duty to fight against this.

Let Us live- Don’t Poison us

This is the campaign we launched in July 2011. It is not a new theme. We have been fighting against the Agrochemicals for over 3 decades. We are much aware of the 12 POPs which include 6 pesticides. However, all pesticides, weedicides and fungicides are harmful to the human, other living being and to the ecosystems.

Immediate reason for revamping the Pesticide campaign is the recent controversy on Arsenic in Pesticides. Some researchers from the Universities of Kelaniya and Rajarata claims that they found Arsenic in Pesticides and they believe that is the reason for the unidentified kidney disease in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. This disease has killed more than 20,000 people already and another 20000 people are suffering from the disease at the moment.

However other researchers say the reason is not the Arsenic in Pesticides but Cadmium in Fertilizer. Others claim it is high Fluoride levels in water. Some others say it is due to the Cyanotoxin which is a result of Cyano-algae found in some reservoirs.

“We do not wish to limit the campaign against pesticide just because it has Arsenic. Pesticide includes Mercury, Cadmium and other heavy metals as well. However the active ingredient itself is highly poisonous” says Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice/ Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka.

The open Forum held on the 7th July 2011 was organized by the Centre for Environmental Justice, Vikalpanie, Sri Lanka Soba Samuhikaya, MONLAR, New Era, Swarnahansa Padanama, Buddhist Actions on the Nature and number of other organizations. Over 200 farmers, CSO members , environmentalists, Academics and many other professionals joined the event.

We Demand
• complete ban of all harmful agrochemicals
• support organic farming
• ensure right to live and right to health for the people in Rajarata and nearby areas
• bring strict regulations to control all agrochemicals
• stop distribution of low quality fertilizer and
• ensure food and water safety.