According to a report published on Tuesday by a coalition of NGOs, including the Berne Declaration, the distribution of six badly labelled hazardous pesticide products to Indian farmers in the Punjab region – two by Swiss-based Syngenta and four by Bayer CropScience – violates the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management.
“In the Punjab province, these firms distribute dangerous pesticides without guaranteeing safe user conditions…and knowingly expose farmers to major health risks,” the Berne Declaration said in a statement.
The NGOs carried out a survey of 32 farmers in nine villages across the Malwa region of Punjab in 2014-2015 after reports of health problems and poor use of pesticides was brought to their attention. The Punjab region is the second largest consumer of pesticides in the country.
According to the report, many farmers are suffering the health effects of uninformed, unprotected pesticide application to crops including nausea, rashes and eye irritation.
The NGOs said the labels of all six pesticide products appeared to lack clarity and were missing information. Company representatives and users lacked adequate training and protective clothing was only witnessed on two occasions. They say the firms fail to communicate safety information in a language other than Hindi, which is only spoken by 8% of the literate population in the Punjab region.
The coalition urges Syngenta and Bayer to withdraw the six products – Nativo (Bayer), Confidor (Bayer), Regent (Bayer), Larvin (Bayer), Gramoxone (Syngenta), and Matador (Syngenta) – from the Indian market.
In an official statement, Syngenta said it would investigate the accuracy of the claims and “take appropriate action, if necessary, to meet our commitments”.
It said it complied with local laws, but noted that it was “open to the possibility of working with other stakeholders to further improve [company] practices”.
The firm said the samples used in the NGO survey were small and monitoring periods were short. It added that the report failed to recognise that India had a “well-established and functioning pesticide regulatory system with which companies are required to comply”.
But it acknowledged the report hinted at possible “shortcomings in terms of labelling of products in India and in the training of smallholders and the provision of stewardship in general”.
Bayer CropScience also emphasised its compliance with Indian regulations, and plans to discuss the report’s findings internally before addressing potential changes to “product stewardship measures”.
“Bayer is constantly working on better product containers and application techniques to reduce contact with the product to a minimum,” said Bayer CropScience spokesman, Utz Klages in an email to swissinfo.ch.
Officials from the FAO and World Health Organization (WHO) are meeting on Tuesday in China to discuss pesticide management. The Berne Declaration says it has asked the committee to monitor the implementation of the FAO Code, and to ban the importation, distribution and sale of the noted pesticides unless conditions improve.