Maharashtra is one of the major cotton growing areas in India. Most of the cotton planted in recent years has expressed the Bt gene to control certain insects, but a combination of factors including resistance has eroded its efficacy. Between higher priced seed and the need to apply extra insecticide, cotton farmers in the region have been struggling to just break even.
A major infestation of bollworms and whiteflies threatened the cotton crop this season. When first planted in India, and indeed around the world, Bt cotton did suppress bollworm numbers and reduce the need for some insecticide sprays. But now the technology is failing in some parts of India, and so farmers felt they had to bring out the “big guns” to save their crop.
Apparently this season in Maharashtra, the hottest and most affordable insecticide is called Profex Super, a product containing profenofos and cypermethrin. It was sprayed by many farmers who walked through their fields with backpack sprayers.
Nine died, four lost their vision but survived, and 70 more are still in treatment, according to The Hindu story entitled “9 farmers die in Yavatmal after spraying insecticide on crops“.
Remarkably, an official working for a government task force assessing stress on farmers voices surprise at the loss of life in the story, and says the insecticides applied were “not very toxic.”
One wonders who told the task force spokesperson that. Profenofos is one of the most toxic organophosphate insecticides ever used in commercial agriculture. EPA has set it’s chronic Reference Dose, the regulated amount of “safe” exposure, at 0.00005 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Since the dawn of the chemical-ag age, very few pesticides have had four zeroes in their chronic Reference Dose, and almost all have caused serious human health problems. It is also extremely acutely toxic (poses a risk of death from one a single exposure).
In the U.S., the collapse of herbicide-resistant crop technology in corn, soybeans, and cotton production has triggered sharply rising use of herbicides, leading to higher human exposures and more risk of reproductive problems, birth defects, and cancer. In India, the failure of Bt cotton is killing people.
These tragic developments do share one thing in common — the official explanation from the pesticide and biotech industry will be that the farmers and applicators did not follow the label.
Pavan Dahat, “9 farmers die in Yavatmal after spraying insecticide on crops,” The Hindu, September 26, 2017.