India’s 2nd Bhopal

It’s been a flying start to the year and clearly everyone’s cupboards were as bare as mine. Our overworked distributors had a tough time getting all the orders to their destinations on time – our apologies to those who were kept waiting today.

While I’d hate to subsist on a desert island with just a single food, if I had to pick a “desert island” food in the past, it would have been peanut butter at one time, and later avocados. If I had to pick right now, it’d be cashew nuts. So I’m extremely pleased that we have organic cashew nuts back in stock again.

Cashews have higher protein levels than most other nuts, and lower fat levels, which means they keep their freshness longer. I’d never figured cashews as being particularly high in pesticide use compared with, say, berries, but doing some research I was startled to discover some of the effects of cashew pesticides.

In India, the pesticide endosulfan has been heavily used on cashew crops, usually sprayed from the air. The World Health Organization classifies endosulfan as “moderately hazardous” and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as “highly hazardous”. It’s banned in Europe, but is still used in the US (where it will soon be banned), Brazil, and India.

And just how hazardous is this in practice? In the Indian state of Kerala, in 2006, the deaths of 135 people were directly linked to endosulfan use, while countless others are believed to have died or suffered serious illness and developmental problems as a result, including cancer, cerebral palsy and serious psychiatric disorders. A visit to the hamlet of Swarga found a 15-year old boy whose hair had turned grey, and a 23-year old man still crawling on all fours, unable to walk. In this tiny hamlet of 90 households, there were 49 cases of cancer (mostly liver and blood) 23 cases of mental retardation, 10 suicides for no apparent reason, 43 psychiatric cases, 23 cases of epilepsy and 20 cases of congenital anomalies – all mostly affecting young people below the age of thirty.

The situation in the cashew plantations has been described as India’s 2nd Bhopal, but it has been happening slowly, over years, and far from the cameras. And it’s this devastation to farmworkers, their families and the surrounding community we supported when we unthinkingly buy conventional cashews.

Endosulfan is widely used in other crops too, including cotton, and spices such as cardamon, and not only affects humans, but is highly destructive to aquatic life as well.

The solution, according to some, involves rigorously gathering evidence, then lobbying for years to enact a ban, as is now gathering momentum. Only to replace endosulfan with another untested pesticide. Endosulfan was first approved for use in 1954. That’s 56 years of devastation, and counting. How long will it take to realise the effects of the next pesticide?

Or perhaps we can choose a better solution, and support organic agriculture.

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical team

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