Of Tea & Vultures

Of Tea & Vultures

cordaINteaSo maybe our tea is OK, but Carbofuran is still for sale over the counter in Kenya: Lions are being poisoned with it, vultures picking on the carcasses are going extinct, and so human diseases are spreading and there’s an epidemic of rabies among the growing population of feral dogs.

Nature’s complicated.

It’s unconscionable that after banning Carbofuran in 2008 for use within the U.S., the Obama administration continues to license it for sale abroad. Talk about the pharmaceutical industrial complex.

FMC Corporation continues to manufacture the poison in the U.S., sell it to a Chinese chemical distributor, Jiangsu Hopery Chemicals that in turn resells it to Juanco Ltd for sale to disgruntled farmers around the Maasai Mara for poisoning lions.

The first to discover the lion dead are the vultures that have been patiently watching it die. They sometimes get into the carcass before the hyaena and jackal. Then the wildlife service finds the poached animal and removes it before other organic vectors like wasps and maggots spread the poison.

But it’s usually too late. “Within a 4-month period the Ruppell’s vulture [that fed on a poisoned carcass] had gone to Ethiopia, southern Sudan and the central part of Tanzania,” according to Dr. Munir Virani, a raptor biologist in Kenya, before the bird died.

The decline in vultures worldwide is extremely serious. Virani has identified many more benign drugs than Furadan-5 (another name for Carbofuran) killing vultures.

Virani and his team proved that the enormous success of Diclofenac, a nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory pain treatment drug used in humans and domestic animals, was a major contributor to the catastrophic decline of 40-60 million vultures in South Asia over three decades.

Animals and people treated with the drug usually died (not from the drug but from the cancer or other disease that was causing their pain) and were then scavenged. In the case of people it may have been through bodily fluids or even discarded clothing.

Virani explains that “with 90% decimation of some Asian vulture species there has been a catastrophic rise in the number of rats and feral dogs.”

“The ripple effects of significant reduction of vultures are already being felt [in Kenya as well]. Tourism operators and landowners in the greater Mara region have noted with concern the growing numbers of feral dogs.”

The area is now suffering its first epidemic of rabies.

I wrote about Carbofuran in 2011 after a number of Kenyan and global organizations demanded that it be banned.

Five years and thousands of bird and animal deaths later — and probably many human deaths, too — the sales in sub-Saharan Africa continue unabated. FMC Corporation is just too powerful.

In 2009 the concern that Carbofuran was getting into Kenyan tea prompted the FDA to initiate testing of all Kenyan tea imports. This in turn forced many tea growers in Kenya to abandon pesticides. So our tea is probably OK.

But the ethics of continued distribution of drugs that percolate into the wider food chain seems pretty straight-forward to me. Otherwise beneficial drugs like Diclofenac might raise difficult questions. But the ethics of the continued distribution of something like Carbofuran is not the least bit murky.

The U.S. knows it’s bad and has banned it from here.

How can we allow the badness to be exported abroad without accepting responsibility for a catastrophic impact on the world’s ecosystem and the propagation of enormous misery?

Should I ask you to write your Congressman?