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Monsanto Herbicide Ban Placed On Hold in Sri Lanka After Pressure From Lobbyists: Kidney Disease Linked To Herbicide — But Lobbyists Questioned The Science


Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


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Facing political opposition and questions about its scientific evidence, Sri Lanka’s government has placed on hold its decision to ban the top-selling Monsanto herbicide glyphosate based on the weed killer’s alleged role in a deadly epidemic of kidney disease.

The delay represents a setback to efforts by some scientists and health officials, primarily in Sri Lanka and El Salvador, to remove the herbicide for its potential link to the mysterious kidney disease that has killed tens of thousands of agricultural workers.

Monsanto, other agrochemical producers and Sri Lankan officials, including Registrar of Pesticides Anura Wijesekara, have pushed back, noting that the ban rests on a theory that has not been proven.

“It is an interesting hypothesis, but we don’t have any evidence for it,” said Dr. Wijesekara, a consistent skeptic of curbs on agrichemicals. Banning glyphosate, he said, “will affect the tea plantations and also the [rice] paddy cultivation drastically.”

For more than two years, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has examined a rare form of kidney disease devastating agricultural workers in Central America, Sri Lanka and India. Scientists suspect the malady is caused by a combination of factors including chronic dehydration from hard labor in tropical heat, and exposure to toxins such as pesticides.

As death tolls mount, the disease’s origins have yet to be fully uncovered. Now, the search for a cause has triggered a scientific back-and-forth spanning continents, with potential international repercussions.

On March 12, a Sri Lankan minister announced that President Mahinda Rajapaksa, after receiving a scientific report that “revealed that kidney disease was mainly caused by glyphosate,” was banning the herbicide. The decision followed publication of a scientific paper that laid out a new theory attributing widespread kidney failure among farmers to the popular herbicide. The study did not include new scientific data; its authors say they have original data supporting their conclusion, and are working to publish that information. Since the announcement, Sri Lanka’ government-sponsored Pesticide Technical Committee, Monsanto and agrochemical industry groups have objected — and the ban has been placed on hold.

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