Herbicide rampantly used in South India increases risk of cancer, finds study

Glyphosate is being rampantly used in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh: PAN.

ByChetana Belagere

Published Jul 12, 2022 | 3:41 PM Updated Jul 25, 2022 | 2:58 PM

Herbicide Glyphosphate to increase risk of cancer, studies find. (Representative image: Creative Commons)

The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently raised the alarm about the use of the weed-killing herbicide glyphosate in their country.

A recently published study said that glyphosate leads to increased cancer risk.

A more worrisome fact, however, is that a comprehensive study on the same topic by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) in 2020 said Glyphosate was being used rampantly in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Himachal Pradesh.

‘Scary reality’

PAN is one of the five regional centres of a global network working towards the elimination of harm caused to humans and the environment through pesticide use.

AD Dileep Kumar, assistant director of PAN India and author of the study, told South First, “Rampant use of this pesticide is a scary reality. It is being used in the periphery of schools, Public Health Centres, anganwadis, in every possible place for weed removal”.

He added: “Even though there is no data to link the use of this (glyphosate) to the rising incidence of cancer in the country, I am sure we will find similar cases in our states if studies are conducted.”

The study by the PAN has discussed various concerns about this pesticide being rampantly used across states.

Farmers’ dilemma

Meanwhile, farmers in Karnataka told South First that although the price of glyphosate increased four times in the last few months, it is still widely in use.

Hari M, a farmer from the Doddaballapura district, told South First, “I use this every time I want to remove weeds. It kills the weed completely in 15 days. Manually removing it takes a lot more money and time.”

Hari asked, “They say it’s dangerous to health, but this helps to remove weeds like ‘garike’ and ‘thunge’. What is the alternative anyway?”

‘Should invest in alternates’

Usha Soolapani, a farmer and the director of the Kerala-based Thanal Trust, agreed that glyphosphate has few alternatives.

“During awareness campaigns, the farmers do ask for alternatives, but unfortunately, there are not many,” she told South First.

“Practically, the farmer will have to do it through manual weeding, which is very expensive, time-consuming, and labour-intensive,” she added.

She argued that the Central government and universities should invest in the research and development of weed-removal methods.

“There needs to be equipment and other alternatives to help farmers with the weeding process,” she said.

“The government can form labour groups and provide employment by making weeding part of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA). This will offset labour costs that promote the use of herbicides,” she suggested.

Doctors’ take

Speaking to South First, Dr Narayana Subramaniam, an oncologist specialising in head and neck cancer, said, “There has been a steady increase in cancer incidence over the last decade.”

She added: “Although part of this is related to better and earlier detection of cancer, there is a growing concern over newer causes of cancer because of environmental exposure.”

Dr Santosh HS, a consultant endocrinologist, stressed that bio-amplification of non-biodegradable pesticides accumulates in the body and is likely to cause damage in the long term.

No conclusive link

Meanwhile, doctors explain that, many more such chemicals are of late being used as herbicides and pesticides, and that they have entered the food chain.

“The effects of these are not completely understood, and they may be contributing significantly to increasing incidence of cancer and even chronic diseases,” said Santosh

He explained that though glyphosate and other pesticides have not been conclusively linked to cancer, it’s essential to do more extensive epidemiological studies to understand these trends better.

Dr Lohith Reddy, a consultant radiation oncologist, told South First, “Further studies are needed with detailed exposure assessment for individual pesticides in the Indian population.”

Agreeing to this, Dileep said, “Assessing the environmental and human health impacts of Glyphosate in particular and pesticide use, in general, has not become a practice in India.”

He added: “There is restrictive use in some states like Telangana and Kerala but no complete ban. There is data needed to understand the implications. The healthcare industry seems not interested in conducting studies on its impact; hence the government is also not pushing for it.”