PANNA: Indian Chemical Companies Seek a Right to Poison


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Indian Chemical Companies Seek a Right to Poison
July 7, 2003

The Indian chemical industry has urged their government not to ratify the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty on persistent organic pollutants that is nearing global ratification. The Indian Chemicals Manufacturing Association (ICMA) released a statement in early June warning that "the globally legally binding treaty would be detrimental to the health of the Indian chemical industry" if it is accepted by the Indian government. India was one of the 97 countries that signed the treaty in May 2001, indicating intent to ratify and implement the Convention.

The Stockholm Convention, which currently has 33 of 50 ratifications needed to come into effect, maps out a plan for the elimination of a class of chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants or "POPs." POPs have characteristics that lead to their global transport and biomagnification as they move up the food chain and accumulate in animal and human fat. Extremely persistent and toxic, they are particularly harmful to children and pregnant women, even in very small doses.

The initial list of 12 chemicals targeted under the Convention includes DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, chlordane, mirex, toxaphene and PCBs, all of which had once been produced for the human benefit, either to control diseases (DDT), pests (aldrin) or as industrial products (PCB oils for electrical transformers). Others like dioxins, furans, hexzachlorobenzene and PCBs (which are also manufactured) are unintentional by-products of processes like waste incineration, paper manufacturing and chemical production (see PANUPs Stockholm Convention Ratifications Gain Momentum, November 2002, http://www.panna.org/resources/panups/panup_20021101.dv.html and http://www.pops.int, for a detailed description of the Stockholm Convention and a current list of ratifying countries).

In India, nine of the 10 'manufactured' POPs on the initial list have already been banned (e.g. aldrin, dieldrin, chlordane) or were never manufactured in the country (e.g. mirex and toxaphene). The sole exception is DDT, which is used and exported for malaria control, but manufactured only by the government and in decreasing quantities. It is important to understand why ICMA would so aggressively oppose a treaty that does not affect its current markets.

The powerful Indian chemical industry has annual revenues of over US$25 billion (13% of total Indian GDP), ranking twelfth worldwide. Within that, the Indian agro-chemical sector contributes US$600 million every year and produces an estimated 90,000 metric tons of pesticides a year. Data on pesticide residues in food collected over the past 15 years has shown widespread contamination of both packaged food and farm gate products throughout the country. The chemical industry is also a significant source of export revenue, representing 13% contribution to total exports annually.

The restrictions and ultimate bans laid out in the Stockholm Convention represent a new reality for Indian agrochemical companies, which have faced minimal restrictions over the years as government policy linked pesticides and fertilizers to increased food production.

The provision in the POPs treaty to add new chemicals beyond the 12 currently on the list may be the major source of industry opposition. The Indian chemical industry has a particular investment in two pesticides, endosulfan and lindane, which are widely considered likely candidates for addition under the treaty. Endosulfan alone accounts for over 10% of total insecticide consumption in India, and has recently come under severe pressure owing to the health effects it has caused in communities living around cashew plantations in the Kasargode district in South India. To counter this public pressure a new Association of Endosulfan Manufactures in India has been formed and is campaigning aggressively to protect endosulfan production and use.

The Indian chemical industry's efforts to block adoption of the Stockholm Convention flies in the face of an emerging international consensus supporting global elimination of persistent organic pollutants. Increased flow of global information, however, will make it difficult for ICMA to succeed in their efforts. New internationally linked networks of civil society such as IPEN (the International POPs Elimination Network) bring credible global information and experience, through its worldwide membership, to the doorstep of affected villages in India. Civil society is now participating in international policy fora such as the Intergovernmental Forum for Chemical Safety (IFCS) and the UN Environment Program. Regional and national public interest can engage with and counter industry arguments effectively.

By calling on the Indian government to avoid ratification of the Stockholm Convention, ICMA is attempting to block inevitable progress in the country's chemicals policy. Like an ostrich with its head in the sand, Indian chemical companies are refusing to accept real progress in protecting human health and the environment.

Sources: "Chemical Industry Urges Govt To Stay Off POPs Treaty" by Vijay Trivedi, June 9, 2003, Financial Express, http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=35846; Pesticides in India: Environment and Health Sourcebook, November 2000, Toxics Link.

Contact: Toxics Link India, email ravig1@vsnl.com, Web site http://www.toxicslink.org.

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