Critish American Tobacco, the world's second largest tobacco company, has denied
it is negligent in recommending a potent pesticide to its contract farmers in Kampong
Cham province, but failing to offer them protective gear.
The multinational's comments came after some villagers contracted to grow tobacco
for BAT told the Post the company had recommended the pesticide, but had not provided
training on how to use it. BAT does not provide protective gear as a matter of course,
said a company representative.
None of the small group of contract farmers the Post talked to was aware that Endosulfan,
which is banned in ten countries including Germany, Sweden, Norway, Singapore and
Indonesia, was even dangerous.
Khem Chanvirak, a BAT employee in the province, confirmed the company recommends
Endosulfan, rated Class II by the World Health Organization, to growers but does
not provide gloves or face masks. Instead, he said, BAT taught growers the skills
and education to ensure safe use.
"We tell them to use it carefully," he said, "because Endosulfan can
poison just like any other pesticide."
The extent of how just how dangerous it can be was revealed in a recent Indian study
which linked aerial spraying of Endosulfan on cashew plantations to - among
other afflictions - nervous system disorders, mental disorders, cancers and genetic
mutations. The young, it stated, were worst affected.
The February 2002 report was produced by Thanal, an Indian public interest group,
in conjunction with the Pesticide Action Network. The study was carried out in Kasaragod,
southern India and concluded that the health complaints of local people were as a
result of exposure to the pesticide, which has the toxicological properties of DDT.
The report's study team was led by Dr Romeo F Quijano, professor of pharmacology
and toxicology at the University of the Philippines. Dr Romeo stated in a press release
that in his expert opinion, Endosulfan exposure was the only reasonable cause of
the Indian villagers' health problems.
Ghazali Salamat, BAT's regional leaf director, told the Post that the company provided
tobacco seedlings to growers. Its first recommendation to growers who needed to combat
pests was neam leaf, a natural pest controller; the second was one of a number of
commercially available pesticides, including Endosulfan.
He estimated around 30 percent of BAT's 800 contracted tobacco growers used neam.
The rest used other products including Endosulfan, but he was not able to give precise
"We don't as a company issue the Endosulfan to our farmers," he said. "Endosulfan
is one of the approved chemicals for use on tobacco, and is also approved by the
US Department of Agriculture."
However, the Thanal report quotes the US Environmental Protection Agency as classifying
Endosulfan as a Class 1b poison. It is regarded as highly hazardous and is easily
absorbed by the stomach, the lungs and through the skin.
In the south-east of Cambodia, 20-year-old Kela told the Post that no BAT representatives
had shown him how to use the pesticide safely in the three years he had been growing
tobacco for BAT.
He sprays around ten tins of Endosulfan a day in the peak growing season, which lasts
for around three months of the year. That equates to around three liters of pure
Endosulfan per season. It was hard, he said, to avoid the sprayed liquid dripping
His mother said BAT representatives had come simply to show them how to plant tobacco;
she had not had any training on how to use the pesticide safely.
BAT's Ghazali admitted it was possible some farmers had missed training sessions
as attendance records were not kept, a practice he agreed the company should change.
However, if BAT staff on their regular visits encountered a farmer using pesticide
incorrectly, they would tell them how to use it safely.
"[We tell them] how you mix it, don't use your hands, use long sleeves, use
masks, don't spray against the wind," he said. "When we do that training,
of course we do not get 100 percent attendance all the time. And others might not
adopt what we advise them to do."
He said that during demonstrations farmers were shown that gloves and masks should
be used, but confirmed the company did not provide such basic protective equipment
to its growers.
"In terms of providing [masks and gloves] on a regular basis for their normal
use - that we don't," said Ghazali. "The farmers have their own responsibilities
The head of the Bureau of Agricultural Material Standards at the Ministry of Agriculture,
Chea Chanveasna, told the Post that Endosulfan was on Cambodia's restricted use list
as it stayed in the environment for a long time after use.
"In Cambodia 'restricted' means it should only be sold to those people who have
the experience to use this. Endosulfan cannot be freely sold and we only allow its
use under certain conditions," said Chanveasna. "But it should not be used
on leafy vegetables or tobacco as the leaves retain the poison."
He added that Endosulfan should only be sold to people who had permission from experts
attesting to the fact that they had the knowledge to use the pesticide properly.
Use of proper equipment was also a prerequisite.
BAT's Ghazali said as far as he was aware the pesticide was approved for use by the
Dr Yang Saing Koma, director of the Center d'Etude et de Développement Agricole
Cam-bodgien (CEDAC), said long term exposure causes chronic toxicity. He was also
concerned at the effect the pesticide could have on fish - organochlorines accumulate
in the food chain, and many Cambodians rely on fish for their protein.
"It is more dangerous if people do not use it properly," he said. "This
type causes long term effects on both human and animal health."