The Truth About Aerial Spraying
Aerial spraying is recognized as a method or standard means of pest control, crop management, and fertigation as expounded in agricultural modernization.
As early as 1968, the Philippines already had 10 aircrafts used in aerial spraying of export bananas, the Cavendish variety. Yet Russia that time already had 7,000, while the United States had 5,700, and these aircrafts were used in spraying cotton and corn among other plantation crops.
For so many decades now, no country that has experienced aerial spraying has banned the practice. And with the advent of modern research, safer and more modern pesticides are being formulated and introduced commercially worldwide. Hence, we do not have to fear the large-scale use of pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers through aerial spraying to control the dreaded fungal diseases of bananas, particularly the Black Sigatoka.
As a general rule, it takes 7 to 10 years to synthesize and develop a pesticide, and the budget for this is US$ 50 million to US$ 100 million. Now to ensure its effectiveness and safety to man and animals, tests required reached up to more than 120 separate tests.
Moreover, only one out of 40,000 chemicals formulated, produced, and tested reaches the market. All the tests are made in well-established laboratories abroad. Among these laboratories are the New York State College of Agriculture at Ithaca, New York and the Pesticide Research Institute of Canada Department of Agriculture at London, Ontario, Canada where the author has experienced working in both.
All the pesticides, particularly fungicides used in aerial spraying of bananas for Sigatoka control since 1967, have been developed in laboratories abroad. And so far, no death incident has been recorded.
Dr. Rodolfo M. Ela, the lone living Filipino toxicologist and member of the Board of Agriculture, stressed that all pesticides used abroad and in the Philippines are hazardous. But there are four categories of hazards as classified by Food and Agriculture Organization and the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority, based on LD50 and expressed in mg per kg. The dosage required to kill 50 percent of the test animals like rats and rabbits is categorized as category I or the most hazardous and category IV or the least hazardous.
Dithane or Mancozeb has an LD50 of 8,000 mg/kg compared to Endrin’s LD50 of 5 mg/kg hence it is already banned. Endrin has been used in the aerial spraying of cotton to control cotton bollworm in the ’50s in Cotabato. Yet nobody, not even the flagman, was affected by the pesticide.
In addition, about 60,000 ha or about two-thirds of the size of Laguna Lake are planted to Cavendish banana today. And it earned lately some US$720 million and employed some 500,000 people.
For everybody’s information, even some items we commonly use are lethal when taken beyond tolerable limits. The following are some examples:
Commonly Lethal dosage used items
Table salt(NaCl) 5 grams
Aspirin, 100 mg 100 tables
Coffee 100 cups
Considering these, why then should we worry about aerial spraying of fungicides which belong to category IV or the least hazardous?
The Japanese are among the health conscious consumers of our bananas, and we never heard of any complaint from them for so many decades now. They continuously import Cavendish bananas from these plantations where aerial spraying is done regularly.
For this reason, the Japan International Cooperation Agency helped establish the National Pesticide Analytical Laboratory (NPAL) to determine pesticide residues in crops exported to Japan. Crops subjected include banana, pineapple, asparagus, mangoes, okra, and onion among others.
The controversial Department of Health study as reported by the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Medicine team headed by Dr. Alan Dionisio is questionable and debatable. Hence, it should be reviewed further by another competent group and be duly approved by the World Health OrganiTation, based on a peer review conducted by two experts from Australia and Great Britain.
Also, the establishment Fertilizer and Research and Development Commission (FPRDC) should be considered. This is important as the function of the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) is only regulatory in nature. FPA cannot even monitor the use of pesticides in onions in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija and in vegetable farms in Benguet, Mt. Province and Nueva Vizcaya due to its limited personnel. What more with the current plantings of export banana?
Definitely, we need more R&D in the fertilizer and pesticide sector. When established, FPRDC should be composed of experts from the National Pesticide Analytical Laboratory which is under the Bureau of Plant Industry, the Pest Management Council of the Philippines at the UP Los Banos, and the FPA.
By Felix A. Velasquez