Deadly chemical for coconut trees
Task Force Sagip of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) has started using a controversial chemical (classified as a neonicotinoid) to try to contain the coconut scale insects (CSI) that have infected some 2.1 million trees—a figure supplied by the PCA weeks ago, and increasing. The chemical has reportedly been injected into the trunks of some 100,000 trees in San Pablo City, in spite of growing protests and warnings of dire consequences.
It is not too late to stop this environmental crime.
Neonicotinoids have been labeled by University of the Philippines agronomist Ted Mendoza as 10,000 times more powerful than the infamous DDT. Some varieties have been banned in the European Union because of their capability to cause “colony collapse disorder,” or the poisoning of bees on a massive scale. The chemicals attack the nervous and immunity systems of insects, birds, and soil-bound animals. It is water-soluble and only 5 percent is absorbed by target seeds or leaves; the rest goes into the soil, and into adjacent rivers and lakes. Very little is known about neonicotinoids’ long-term effects. Food safety advocates worldwide have been campaigning for a “global moratorium” on the use of neonicotinoids.
Curiously, the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA), which has been identified in many media reports as a “partner” of pesticide multinationals, having approved dozens of chemicals banned abroad in the past, very quickly approved the deadly neonicotinoid (brand name Starkle) used by PCA-Sagip. And yet the approval of organic options has not been achieved due to FPA “protocols.” In truth, the FPA has no jurisdiction over organics because these are essentially not chemicals. Why are authorities trying to apply chemical protocols on nonchemicals?
Starkle (subclassification dinotefuran) is manufactured by Mitsui Chemicals of Japan, and marketed here by Leads Agricultural Products Inc.
According to an Inquirer report, the president of Leads is a fraternity brother of Rey Velasco, former UP Los Baños chancellor and a PCA consultant, who is pushing hard for Starkle. A so-called PCA-Sagip-UPLB consortium has reportedly been suppressing information on successful organic cures, until lately when massive protests against Starkle emerged. When a P150-million fund was reportedly released last March, the bulk of which may go into the chemical option, the consortium started saying that both organic and chemical solutions are fine.
The issue in the use of the deadly neonicotinoid is not so much environmental as psychological. Once foreign buyers learn we have been injecting toxins into our coconut trees, they may easily boycott our multibillion-peso copra and coconut oil exports in the blink of an eye, even if we prove these are scientifically safe. The
PCA-Sagip-UPLB consortium says that according to a study by the Department of Science and Technology and its research arms, “51 days after the injection of chemicals into the trunk, there are no traceable chemical residues in the coconut meat and coconut water.” But since we cannot distinguish between the products of trees treated with chemicals and the products of those that are not, the boycott remains a potential risk.
The coconut industry supports a staggering 25 million marginalized Filipinos. A boycott can easily trigger a famine. The PCA-Sagip-UPLB consortium has been warned about this, but it still insists on the chemical option. It is not too late to stop it. Some agronomists theorize that the “CSI bloom” is caused by global warming.
Presidential Assistant for Food Security Francis Pangilinan has been vacillating on the options. He was earlier quoted as saying that he was considering organic options, but subsequently said in a radio interview that if there were no organic solutions, he would be “forced” to use chemicals. Yet there are organic solutions, and these have been reported in the media!
Pangilinan appears to have been persuaded by the PCA-Sagip-UPLB consortium to take the chemical option. But Starkle, which can kill the Philippine global market for coconut, is not the solution; it is the problem.
Is the consortium sufficiently powerful to get its way in defiance of Pangilinan, who in truth is pro-organics? Are Pangilinan and President Aquino willing to risk a decades-old, multibillion-peso industry, one of the largest dollar-earners for the national economy, for a deadly chemical, when a variety of organic solutions are available? Who can stop this small but powerful consortium from bringing about a great agricultural crisis in the Philippines? (The link http://www.sisterraquel.com/2014/07/bibliography provides a bibliography or list of sources of the research data on neonicotinoids used in this article.)
Bernie V. Lopez ([email protected]) has been writing political commentary for the past 20 years. He is also a radio-TV broadcaster, a documentary producer-director, and a former Ateneo professor.
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