India: Despite damning evidence, Kerala’s victims still awaiting otherwise global ban on Endosulfan Print E-mail
Scroll down to read the "Lethal Evidence" and of India's Government batting for Endosulfan in the international arena despite damning domestic evidence of "A Chemical Epidemic" and within these items the belated Endosulfan ban of June 2010 in the United States, and reports indicating the even later ban in Australia in October 2010 despite evidence linking Endosulfan to "two-headed fish" in Noosa, NSW in February of 2009!

 Sunday November 21 2010

Endosulfan: State to seek nation-wide ban

Special Correspondent
Thiruvananthapuram: Forest Minister Benoy Viswom on Saturday said the government would seek a country-wide ban on Endosulfan at a meeting convened by the Centre on November 23 to discuss India's stand at the Geneva and Rotterdam conventions.

Addressing a press conference here, Mr.Viswom said it had been decided to include the Principal Secretary (Forest) in the Kerala delegation to the November 23 meeting.

The Principal Secretaries for Environment, Agriculture and Health would be the other members. The State would also oppose the decision to set up yet another committee to study the impact of Endosulfan. The decision to appoint Dr. C D Mayee, who had earlier presided over another committee, was unjustified because he appeared to be an advocate of Endosulfan.
 Friday November 12 2010

All for ban: Union Minister of State for Forests and Environment Jairam Ramesh (extreme left) having a word with Left leaders who stage a demonstration in front of Parliament House in New Delhi, on Thursday, seeking a ban on the use of Endosulfan in the country.
 Mumbai ~ Vol. 27 :: No. 25 December 04 - 17, 2010

Lethal impact

The issues relating to the victims of endosulfan, sprayed in the plantations of Kasargod district in Kerala, have snowballed once again.

Ajith Shaji, anine-year-old victim of endosulfan, at Badiyadukka panchayat in Kasargod district (THULASI KAKKAT)

“Earthworms emerged from the soil, and, subsequently, died. Then birds came to eat the earthworms and they died as well.”
“Some termites were killed in a cotton farm sprayed with endosulfan. A frog fed on the dead termites, and was immobilised a few minutes later. An owl which flew over saw the immobilised frog, caught it as prey, and then sat on a tree branch to enjoy its meal. Ten minutes later, the owl fell down and died.”

– Farmer-speak reported from the cotton fields
sprayed with the pesticide endosulfan in theRepublic of Benin in western Africa, as quoted in a 2002 study conducted by the Indian Medical Association at Padre village in Kasargod district, Kerala.

A LOT has changed in the decade after the initial alarms were sounded against the continuous use of endosulfan in the cashew-growing villages of Kerala's Kasargod district, and such images from faraway Africa are no longer needed to demonstrate the effects of the widely used pesticide on living beings.

Today, the name of the deadly chemical at once evokes tragic images of its living human victims – of children born with stag-horn limbs, scale-like skin, protruding tongues, eye deformities, extra fingers and toes, cleft palates, club feet and harelips; of those suffering from hydrocephalus (progressive enlargement of the head, convulsion and mental disability), dermatitis, renal diseases, respiratory disorders, cognitive and emotional deterioration, memory loss, impairment of visual-motor coordination, blindness, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and infertility; of young girls and boys who have undergone multiple surgery and artificial limb modification; of young mothers who have opted for repeated abortions instead of giving birth to headless/limbless/deformed children; of young men and women who look like children; and, of children who look like stunted grandparents.

State government surveys indicate that 486 people exposed to the pesticide have died in these villages so far and that nearly 3,000 people continue to suffer the debilitating effects of the chemical sprayed on the cashew plantations. According to the Endosulfan Action Committee, an umbrella body representing nearly a dozen organisations working for the relief and rehabilitation of the affected people, however, there are at least 8,000 to 9,000 victims still suffering the debilitating effects of the aerial spraying of endosulfan done mainly in the three cashew plantations (total area 4,715 hectares) owned by the Plantation Corporation of Kerala (PCK) until 2002, when a ban was first imposed by the Kerala High Court.

Endosulfan is a long-lasting pesticide used primarily to kill insects and mites on various crops including cotton, tea, coffee, cashew, cardamom, fruits, vegetables, rice and grain. It is semi-volatile and is known to spread through air, water, soil and food and other means to even the remote corners of the world, including the Himalayas, the Arctic and the Antarctic. It contaminates global food supply and drinking water, is passed from mothers to their unborn children, and is ‘bioaccumulative'.

In human beings, once it is ingested through the stomach, lungs or through the skin, it acts as an endocrine disrupter, interfering with normal hormone production activity in both males and females, and can significantly affect the nervous system. There is also inconclusive evidence that it causes cancer. Studies show that it “accumulates in fatty tissue, placental tissue, umbilical cord blood and breast milk” and, therefore, “a foetus can be exposed” when still in the uterus, and the child, after birth, can be “re-exposed through the consumption of breast milk”. Unborn children and infants are particularly vulnerable to its effects, as are the elderly.

Kasargod's tragedy
Kasargod's endosulfan tragedy and its reasons are now well-documented. It was in 1963 that the State Agriculture Department began planting cashew trees on the hills surrounding the villages in the northern areas of Kasargod district. In 1978, the PCK, which in later years assumed the likeness of a rogue body in the eyes of the people, took over these plantations.

By the early 1980s, the PCK had started its frightening thrice-a-year ritual of aerial spraying of endosulfan in an extensive area of undulating, cashew-growing hills and valleys spread over a dozen villages. To the government-owned company, endosulfan was a cost-effective antidote to the pestilence caused by the tea mosquito bug, a destructive insect often responsible for considerable yield losses in cashew, a major foreign-exchange-earning farm produce in the State.

The unsuspecting villagers were thus “excessively and repeatedly” exposed to the chemical, initially as they stood gaping at the novelty of helicopters spewing the pesticide, or during their daily chores, especially when using the water flowing down the hills, or while using contaminated food, vegetables and fuelwood or even, as plantation workers, as they stood on the edges of the estates without protective clothing or gear during the spraying.

The PCK ignored stipulations that such aerial spraying of pesticides should be done very close to the canopy level or that the same pesticide should not be used continuously for such a long time in an area. Copters often flew much above the stipulated three metres above the cashew trees to avoid power lines and thus caused the spread of the highly toxic chemical to a wider area. The water and soil in the villages were contaminated severely. Even the possibility of the bugs acquiring immunity because of long-term exposure was not considered by the PCK.

Outside Hindustan Insecticides Limited plant at Udhyogamandal near Kochi on November 22, protesters hold a placard that says 'Stop production of endosulfan' and shows the genetic deformation in the victims of endosulfan. HIL is one of the largest producers of endosulfan in India (H. VIBHU)

There were also several warning signals that were ignored completely: dead birds, frogs and fish in the streams and rivulets; cattle, and wildlife found dead in the plantation areas; and local people experiencing acute endosulfan toxicity symptoms after the spraying sorties over their villages.

The increasing instances of congenital physical disorders, delayed sexual maturity, mental disabilities, psychiatric problems, infertility, blindness among children, cancer and suicides within a small area, much higher than the State average, began to be noticed only by the late 1990s. High levels of endosulfan residues were detected in the blood and breast milk of villagers and the incidences of disorders of the reproductive and nervous systems and cancer were found to be very high. The possibility that the morbidity was a result of the pesticide being used in the plantations came to be widely understood only after 2001, that too because of the activities of a few individuals and media reports that came in their wake.

A public outcry and court cases ensued. The government first ordered a temporary ban in August 2001 but subsequently, in March 2002, confined it to the aerial spraying of the pesticide. However, in August 2002, following a report of an inquiry by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad, which linked many of the ailments to the use of the pesticide, the Kerala High Court ordered an interim ban on its use, until, it said, an inquiry committee constituted by the Union government submitted its report.

The O.P. Dubey Committee, which then gave a clean chit to the use of the pesticide, marked the beginning of a series of such inquiries and temporary bans on endosulfan in Kerala that were ordered as a matter of routine whenever public outrage boiled over or when courts intervened.

Nearly 15 studies have so far been undertaken, mostly by government agencies, and several of them have maintained (rather dubiously, according to NGOs and other organisations) that a clear link could not be established between the pesticide and the health problems of the people in the villages in Kasargod. A few significant reports, especially of the NIOH, the New Delhi-based NGO Centre for Science and Environment, and an expert committee constituted by the State government in 2003, have, however, found the pesticide to be the villain and supported the case for a ban.

In December 2004, the State Pollution Control Board again suspended the aerial spraying of endosulfan, and (on the basis of the 2002 Kerala High Court order) the Union government ordered in October 2005 that the sale, distribution and use of endosulfan in the State of Kerala shall remain prohibited “till the results of (another) expert committee became available and a further decision was taken by the Central government”.

The question of a total ban on endosulfan in Kerala was left to dally rather ambiguously from then on, with the C.D. Mayee Committee appointed thereafter endorsing many of the controversial claims of the earlier committee led by Dubey.

In the six years that followed, though the aerial spraying of endosulfan in the cashew plantations of Kasargod was stopped, the use of the pesticide itself became rather more widespread in Kerala with the chemical being smuggled in from neighbouring States in large quantities for use in rubber, tea and cardamom plantations and in farms. The morbidity patterns, as seen among the victims in Kasargod, have gradually come to be reported rather alarmingly from many other agricultural districts of the State, such as Idukki, Wayanad and Palakkad as also from the cashew-growing regions of Dakshina Kannada district in neighbouring Karnataka.

Given the obvious and debilitating effects of the pesticide on an entire generation of people in Kasargod, no State government could ignore their plight for long. Yet, it was only in 2006 that a new Left Democratic Front government eventually acknowledged the suffering of the victims, offering at least a nominal compensation of Rs.50,000 to the survivors, pension for families of victims, and medical and social rehabilitation facilities – though it was far from adequate for the victims.

In denial

In general, governments have so far been in denial or at best had taken only an ambivalent stand on the issues of the devastating effects of endosulfan on human beings and a total ban on the pesticide. For one, acknowledging the gravity of the situation in Kasargod as having been caused by the unmindful spraying of the pesticide by a government agency would have immediately given rise to the demand for the application of the “polluter pays” principle, adequate compensation for the victims and punishment for those found guilty of such an appalling act.

Moreover, India is one of the largest producers of pesticides in the world and continues to be the largest producer and user of endosulfan, with reportedly over 60 manufacturers and formulators involved in its production and sale. It is a powerful lobby, and there are frequent allegations by NGOs and others about the connivance of government agencies and regulatory bodies with pesticide manufacturers and their business interests.

For example, India's top three manufacturers – among them the public sector Hindustan Insecticides Ltd. (HIL), Kochi – together produced 9,500 tonnes of endosulfan between 2007 and 2008, and 5,500 tonnes of it was used domestically, according to one report.

HIL, ironically, is based in the heavily polluted industrial belt on the banks of the Periyar river in central Kerala and is a Government of India enterprise. It is today one of the largest producers of endosulfan in India, manufacturing 1,500 tonnes of endosulfan (technical grade) and 1,900 kilolitres of liquid endosulfan a year, both for use within India (not in Kerala) and for export. But there are equally prominent manufacturers of “crop protection chemicals” in the private sector too, such as Excel Industries Ltd, EID Parry and Coromandel Fertilizers Ltd.

Controversial argument

The pesticide industries and many government leaders and agencies in India have continuously denied the severe harmful effects of endosulfan and maintained that the tragedy in Kasargod was the result of the improper mode of application of the pesticide (the method of spraying from the air) adopted there. As recently as in October 25, the Union Minister of State for Agriculture K.V. Thomas was seen reiterating this argument at a seminar in Kasargod, even as some of the victims were protesting against the Government of India's increasingly isolated stand opposing a global ban on endosulfan (at the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee of the Stockholm Convention held in Geneva a few days earlier).

It is a controversial argument that stands against the accumulating evidence of peer-reviewed scientific studies the world over and an increasingly popular demand for a global ban on endosulfan. The Minister's statement was opposed vigorously even by his own party colleagues within Kerala and in Parliament. With the State Assembly elections round the corner in Kerala, and with the crucial proposal for the inclusion of endosulfan in Annex A to the Stockholm Convention (which would lead to its elimination from the global market) under the active consideration of the 170-member international treaty representatives meeting in Geneva in April 2011, the issues surrounding the endosulfan victims of Kasargod seem to have achieved critical mass once again, after being on the back burner for a while.

On November 18, the National Human Rights Commission issued notices to the Central and State governments seeking explanations on media reports that the aerial spraying of endosulfan in Kasargod had affected people severely. The very next day, even as the State government and several political leaders began to call for a nationwide ban on the use of endosulfan, the Kerala Pollution Control Board issued a notification reintroducing a State-wide ban on the pesticide under pollution control laws.

On November 24, the Kerala government also announced a “comprehensive package” for relief and rehabilitation of the victims of endosulfan in Kasargod, and sought an assistance of Rs.100 crore from the Centre. The package included a proposal for an immediate moratorium on the recovery of loans availed by the victims, other debt relief measures, and (yet to be finalised) higher compensation and pension for the victims, special facilities for their care, including provision of more health, education, housing and drinking water facilities, and decontamination of water sources.

The endosulfan victims of Kasargod are centre stage once again, thanks also to the media focus on and the pressure from international NGOs, academics and experts against India's opposition to the proposal for a global ban at the Stockholm Convention, under the pretext, among other reasons, that there is still no “robust evidence” to prove the health and environmental impact of the pesticide.

Endosulfan has been used in agriculture since the early 1950s, but is now banned in over 62 countries, including those in the European Union and, following widespread protests, in the United States too from this year, because of high toxicity to humans and other organisms and its quality of persistence in the environment. Significantly, the U.S. ban was announced by its Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on June 7, 2010, with the following words: “The EPA is taking action to end all uses of the insecticide Endosulfan in the United States. Endosulfan, which is used in vegetables, fruits, and cotton, can pose unacceptable neurological and reproductive risks to farm-workers and wildlife and can persist in the environment.”

According to a report prepared by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), a U.K.-based international NGO, endosulfan is an organochlorine pesticide like the widely banned DDT and dieldrin. Because they tend to persist in the environment and bioaccumulate in humans and other animals (particularly in the liver, the kidney and fatty tissues), such pollutants are of concern “because of their long-term subtle effects on hormones, the immune system, and reproduction”.

It was indeed after an evaluation of the risk profile of endosulfan that the POPs Review Committee of the Stockholm Convention decided to seek the approval from its ‘Conference of Parties' for a global ban on the pesticide, at a forthcoming meeting in April. “Robust evidence” that endosulfan is “persistent, bioaccumulative and has the potential for long-range environmental transport and adverse human health and environmental effects” has been piling up from all over the world, including from India.

The affected villagers in Kasargod are but the living examples of the lethal impact of the pesticide.
 Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 27, Dated July 10, 2010

A Chemical Epidemic

The Indian government bats for endosulfan in the international arena despite damning domestic evidence, reports MADHUMITA DUTTA

IN APRIL this year, a Brazilian magazine, Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil, made a shocking revelation about how a top Indian Foreign Service official has become a lobbyist for the chemical industry. The president of ANVISA (Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária), Brazil’s independent health regulatory agency, Agenor Alvares, accused the Indian ambassador of “putting pressure on us to not ban it (endosulfan), by bringing up rules of the trade barrier clause in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement.” Endosulfan is a deadly insecticide banned in over 68 countries.

Farming misery Birth defects, mental retardations and increased rates of cancer are proven consequences of exposure to endosulfan

It was also banned by the Kerala government in 2002, after a damning report by the government-run National Institute of Occupational Health established that hundreds of people in Padre village of Kasaragod district had died due to indiscriminate aerial spraying over state-owned cashew plantations between the 1970s and the 1990s. Local doctors had started noticing and documenting rising incidence of congenital anomalies, delayed puberty, mental retardation, abortions and cancer amongst the local community during this period. Between 1998 and 2002, international and national health agencies conducted health and toxicological studies in Kasaragod and noted neurobehavioural disorders, congenital malformations in girls, abnormalities of reproductive tract in males and increased rate of cancers.

Soon after, the state health department conducted several medical camps, including a study that established the link between endosulfan and the observed health problems in Kasaragod. In 2007, the Kerala government set up an Endosulfan Victims Relief and Remediation Cell to compensate and medically rehabilitate the victims. So far, the cell has compensated over 180 families of victims who had presumably died of endosulfan poisoning. It has also identified over 300 new families, and is medically and socially rehabilitating over 3,000 villagers.

In Dakshina Kannada and Puttur taluks of the bordering state of Karnataka, a similar health crisis amongst the endosulfan-exposed community prompted Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa to order compensation of Rs 50,000 to each victim in February 2010.

In the past five years, India has exported endosulfan to over 70 countries
The evidence seems clinching. But, curiously enough, the Indian government continues to be in denial, thereby actively blocking any international process that attempts to ban or restrict the use of this deadly substance. In 2008, the Indian delegation to the fourth Conference of Parties (COP) of Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent (PIC Convention), headed by environment ministry officials, had blocked the inclusion of endosulfan in the PIC list on specious ‘scientific’ grounds. The Rotterdam Convention incidentally is an international treaty that, through a process of consensus, enlists chemicals requiring exchange of information on health hazards prior to trade. More commonly, this list is known as the PIC list. Mouthing industry science, the Indian ‘experts’ had claimed India’s tropical climate makes the insecticide less harmful (shorter half-life) to Indians! Worse still, the Indian delegation even lied to the representatives of the 126 nations present at the COP. It disputed the findings of a study done by the National Institute of Occupational Health, a government institute, which had found congenital deformities and neurobehavioural disorders amongst children exposed to endosulfan in Kasaragod, Kerala. The same study had been the basis of a ban imposed by the Kerala government in 2002.

In March 2010, the meeting of the scientific Chemical Review Committee (CRC) of the Convention witnessed similar obstructionist tactics of Manoranjan Hota, a director in the Ministry of Environment and Forests. So contradictory was his behaviour, that members of the CRC and government observers levelled allegation of ‘conflict of interest’ against him. On two occasions, Hota posing as an ‘expert’, reversed his earlier position on recommending endosulfan for consideration in the next COP. Frustrated by his shenanigans, the 30-member CRC was forced to voting, much to the discomfort of the chairperson, and voted India out of its entrenched position.

It was obvious to everyone that India’s dubious stance was influenced by chemical industry lobbyists present at the meeting. Independent observers at the meeting noted frequent conferencing between the government official and a representative of the Indian Chemical Council, including ducking out of closedoor meetings to consult with the industry representative.

And this wasn’t the first time. In a shameless display of government-industry nexus in COP 4, the chemical industry representative did most of the talking on behalf of the Indian government during a special meeting convened to understand India’s ‘scientific’ and ‘technical’ objections for inclusion of endosulfan in the PIC list. “While we were hardly given any opportunity to talk to the Indian officials, the Indian chemical industry representatives were huddled in lobby meetings with them, drafting ‘official’ comments and dining with them,” lamented R Sridhar of Thanal, member of the Endosulfan Relief Cell in Kerala, who was present as an NGO observer at COP 4 in Rome in 2008.

SO WHY does India take such an entrenched position every time? The answer may lie in the fact that it is the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of endosulfan, ranked amongst the top five most commonly used agricultural insecticide in the world. Its current global use, as per industry estimates, is about 35 million litres. In the past five years, India has exported endosulfan to over 70 countries, with more than $150 million worth of exports between 2007 and 2008.

Tamil Nadu distributes endosulfan for free after a deal with Cadbury
Domestically too, the government is playing an active role in increasing the use of this insecticide. Tamil Nadu has been aggressively promoting endosulfan after the state agriculture department inked an MOU with Cadbury India Limited in 2007 for enhancing cocoa (a cash crop) cultivation in the state. “For 1,000 saplings of cocoa, 4 litres of endosulfan is given free to the farmers. I got 16 litres of endosulfan free with 4,000 cocoa saplings from the state government as part of the scheme,” said a cocoa farmer from Erode district of Tamil Nadu. “These are all dubious means to promote and increase the dependence of farmers on deadly insecticides like endosulfan. Once the farmer gets used to it, it is difficult for him to get out of the vicious pesticide cycle,” says Sridhar.

BESIDES SHIELDING its state-owned endosulfan manufacturing plant, Hindustan Insecticides Limited, in Kochi, Kerala, it is under enormous pressure from the Gujarat-based Excel Crop Care Limited (a joint venture between the Mumbai-based Shroff Group and Nufarm of Australia), the world’s largest manufacturer of endosulfan with an installed capacity of 6,000 metric tonnes per annum. Not surprisingly, the ‘unofficial spokesperson’ of the Indian government in these meetings happens to be an official from Excel Crop Care, masquerading as some sort of ‘expert’ on international treaties.

A problem that is as fundamental as the Indian government’s willingness to kow tow to the demands of the endosulfan manufacturers is the absolute silence from the Opposition parties on the issue. Even as campaigners attempt to generate public awareness, the chances that someone will bell the cat on the ignoble collusion between the Indian government officials and industry look remote at best.

,Wednesday , November 26 , 2008

Jharkhand: Pesticide found in Bero samples


Ranchi, Nov. 25: The state forensic science laboratory (FSL) today confirmed that traces of a pesticide ­ endosulfan ­ was found in the milk and visceral samples collected after five students died at a Bero residential school.

Senior police superintendent M.S. Bhatia confirmed the test results. A laboratory source said: “Endosulfan is a neurotoxic organochlorine insecticide of the cyclodiene family. The poison can cause death. The intensity of its effect depends on the age and weight of the person consuming it, rather than on the amount consumed.”

Birsa Agriculture University (BAU), Ranchi, dean of agriculture A.K. Sarkar said endosulfan is a toxic pesticide used by farmers across India. P.K. Singh of BAU’s entomology department said it is extensively used for crops such as sugarcane, tomato, brinjal, pulses and cashew.

The poison is rated as highly toxic, based on an LD value of 50 ­ signifying the quantum of solid or liquid material it takes to kill 50 per cent of test animals in a single dose.

Reports state that the consumption of this pesticide causes nervous breakdown, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and in severe cases, death.

“Once we ascertain how the pesticide was mixed, it will be easier for us to find the person responsible for the act,” said an officer at Bero police station. Officer-in-charge, Bero police station, Shiv Chander Singh, however, refused to comment. “I have been informed by RIMS to collect the report and hand it to the court. Once that is done, I will be able to make some headway in the case,” Singh added.

Meanwhile, the State Commission for Women has decided to investigate whether the Bero police illegally detained milk supplier Pratima Devi for seven days.

Commission chairman Lakshmi Singh said member Meera Jaiswal will visit the detention centre tomorrow.

Media Release/ Ref: 2010/12
Date: 12 October 2010

Registration of endosulfan cancelled in Australia

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) today advises that it has cancelled the registration of the insecticide endosulfan.

This decision follows a recent assessment of new information by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPC) that the prolonged use of endosulfan is likely to lead to adverse environmental effects via spray drift and run-off.

A full risk assessment conducted by DSEWPC concluded that these long term risks could not be mitigated through restrictions on use or variations to label instructions.

From today, agricultural products containing endosulfan are no longer registered in Australia. The three current approvals for endosulfan have also been cancelled, and the five products containing the chemical will be phased out over the next two years.

This time period has been imposed because of the relatively limited amounts of endosulfan in use and is in line with phase-out periods imposed by other national regulators who have similarly taken recent action against endosulfan.

Risks to human health were not a factor in the APVMA decision. While recent and emerging toxicological data were assessed by the Office of Chemical Safety and Environmental Health, it has been determined that the current regulatory regime has been effective in managing these risks.

Some of the new environmental data on which the APVMA’s decision is based emerged following the recent nomination of endosulfan to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). This nomination focussed more attention on endosulfan and produced a large volume of new information on its environmental fate and effects.

For further information, see:

APVMA Gazette Notice: Cancellation of endosulfan active constituent approvals, products containing endosulfan and label approvals of products containing endosulfan (PDF, 58kb)
Technical reports supporting the decision to cancel the registration of endosulfan
Summary of the decision to cancel the registration of endosulfan
Media and Communications Inquiries

Dr Simon Cubit
Phone: +61 2 6210 4869
Fax: +61 2 6210 4813

The Weekly Times NOW ~ Melbourne ~ February 4, 2009

Endosulfan deadly but still legal

Leslie White
AUSTRALIA'S chemical regulator has defended its decision not to ban the insecticide endosulfan, despite it being linked to cancer and birth defects in fish.

Endosulfan is used by some vegetable and fruit growers and in macadamia production, and is sold under the trade names Thionex, Endocil, Phaser, and Benzoepin.

It is prohibited in 55 countries and was recently banned by New Zealand authorities.

But the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority said its decision not to deregister the chemical was based on science.

"It does persist (in the environment), that's why it presents risks - the issue is how the risks are managed," an APVMA spokesman said. "It's a chemical with known health effects. (Allowing its use) is more a reflection of our successful ability to manage risk, than it is a weakness."

Media reports recently linked the use of endosulfan to two-headed fish found in Noosa.

The organic farming community has also stepped up its assault on the chemical, saying it interferes with hormones and is linked to breast cancer.

An agent at a retail outlet for a major agricompany said he would not stock endosulfan.

"We won't sell it, it's not really needed - there are far better insecticides out there to do the job, and we try to promote products that are more environmentally friendly and target specific," the agent said.

The National Registration Authority banned the use of ultra low volume endosulfan in March 2001 because it posed "risks to Australian and international beef trade".

It had been demonstrated that spray drift from the ultra low volume use of the chemical could produce unacceptable chemical residue levels in beef, the NRA said.

The Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants is currently considering a global ban on the chemical.

Victorian Farmers Federation Horticulture Group president Peter Cochrane said the countries that had effectively banned the chemical had "acted on emotion".

"If it's taken off the list (of legal chemicals) it should be based on science - it's an important tool to control certain pests at certain times of the year," Mr Cochrane said.

"It does stay around (in the environment) apparently."

Mr Cochrane said he did not use the chemical at his vegetable farm.