Sri Lanka bans Monsanto herbicide citing potential link to deadly kidney disease

Concerned the chemical may be linked to a kidney disease killing agricultural workers, Sri Lanka this week ordered a ban on glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide Roundup.

The move comes weeks after publication of a new study in Sri Lanka suggesting glyphosate as the leading culprit for the illness. The paper did not provide new scientific evidence, but laid out a detailed theory that the use of glyphosate in areas with heavy metals in the drinking water is causing the chronic kidney disease. Roundup is the top selling herbicide in the world, and Monsanto said the newest study is built upon untested theory rather than hard data.

“Glyphosate acts as a carrier or a vector of these heavy metals to the kidney,” said Dr. Channa Jayasumana, the study’s principal author.

For more than two years, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has examined a mysterious form of kidney disease that has killed tens of thousands of agricultural workers in Central America, Sri Lanka and India. The malady is suspected by scientists to be caused by a combination of factors including chronic dehydration from hard labor in tropical heat and exposure to toxins such as pesticides, but its origins have yet to be fully uncovered.

Wednesday’s announcement by Sri Lanka was the most dramatic measure taken to date to combat the illness. The legislature in El Salvador approved a ban on dozens of agrochemicals including glyphosate last September, but the proposal has so far not been signed into law.

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“An investigation carried out by medical specialists and scientists has revealed that kidney disease was mainly caused by glyphosate,” Special Projects Minister S.M Chandrasena told reporters in Sri Lanka. “President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ordered the immediate removal of glyphosate from the local market soon after he was told of the contents of the report.”

Roundup is used all over the world, including in countless areas that do not suffer from this distinct form of kidney disease.

“There are no epidemiologic studies suggesting that exposures to glyphosate-based products are associated with renal disorders either in Sri Lanka or elsewhere,” said Monsanto spokesman Thomas Helscher. “The paper presents a theory, the theory has not been tested, and there are a significant number of publications supported by data that make the Jayasumana hypothesis quite unlikely to be correct.”

Sri Lanka’s ban represents a triumph for Jayasumana, a researcher who has long insisted that pesticides and the heavy metals arsenic and cadmium are responsible for the disease.

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