Globalisation and Environmental Health

- A.Joseph Thatheyus and *J. Delphine Prema Dhanaseeli
Zoology Department, The American College,
Madurai - 625 002. Tamil Nadu.
*Department of History, Jayaraj Annapackiam College for Women, Periyakulam - 625 001, Tamil Nadu, India

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 13 (2003), 179-181.


India, an ancient land is known for its resources and its people who respected the soil, plants and animals. The rural societies, whether agrarian or sylvian, were living in harmony with their environment. They utilized the biodiversity and the natural resources judiciously. People were able to coexist with other animals and plants even in practically inaccessible tracts. They possessed abundant knowledge about their utility. India is 2% of the global geographical area and has 1% of global forest area and 0.5% of global pastureland. It has 18% of world population and 15% of world livestock (Ali and Mohan, 1999). Intensive cultivation, rapid industrialisation and the consequent urbanization which are the forces of gloablisation have marred the quality of environment and the balance between man and his environment with scant regard for the preservation of ecological balance and have brought forth a proverbial, cart-before the horse situation.



Globalisation is the process of change resulting from a combination of increasing cross-border activity and spread of information technology facilitating worldwide communication. It relaxes the control on quantitative restriction imposed on certain commodities. In developing countries  like India, market oriented system cannot help to achieve the ideals, while it is possible with the mixed system of economy. On April 1, 2001, the Indian government has lifted quantitative restrictions on over 700 products. In the last year it had already lifted such barriers on several hundred other items. Flooding of cheap goods from other countries led to the delight of urban elite consumers class but affected our environment, biodiversity, farmers, fisher folk, tribals and small entrepreneurs. The forces of globalisation entail the free flow of imports and exports between countries while it compels countries to ignore or weaken the controls that are so essential to protect our environment.


Environmental quality

International trade encourages destructive shrimp culture along the coastal regions, which reduces the agriculture lands and the intrusion of saltwater. The effluents generated through these practices affect the quality of our environment. For transporting the products, several changes are made in different routes and especially in USA, for the transport of soyabean, the ecology of Mississippi river was altered (Halweil, 2000). Natural river meanders are straightened, locks and ports are built modifying wetlands. When the lock and dam system expands in the rivers, the riverine ecology is modified through the increase in large traffic. According to the U.S fish and wildlife service, this kind of projects threaten the plant diversity and in turn the fish, mollusk, bird and insect communities. 300 species of migratory birds and 127 species of fish in the Mississippi river were threatened. The least tern, the pallid sturgeon and other species that evolved with the ebbs and flows, sandbars and depths, of the river are progressively eliminated or forced away as the diversity of the river's natural habitats is removed to maximize the large traffic (Halweil, 2000). When the river is dredged to facilitate the navigation path, fish spawning grounds and bird nesting habitats are altered suppressing the riverine species.

Herbicide intensive soybean monocultures are replacing the diverse grasslands. Farmers in a competition to increase their production, practice shortcut methods resulting in top-soil erosion. Gloablisation results in the encouragement of monoculture practices like single species plantations including flower, export-oriented cash crops and a few market-favored crop varieties. To achieve increase in production, pesticides like roundup, agent orange are applied on crops. Genetically engineered plants and terminator seeds are applied more which will manipulate the gene pool and terminate the life cycles. Introduction of transgenic food products under monopolistic markets might make farmers vulnerable to exploitation. Chemicalisation of agriculture with the application of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers have caused the  stress on agro ecosystems resulting in a ecological breakdown. Most of these pesticides are xenobiotic and are recalcitrant ie resistant to biodegradation. Unhindered dumping of products, including polluting toxic chemicals and exotic species of organisms wipe out the indigenous species (Kothari, 2001).

International trade has resulted in large scale industrial agriculture including Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO). In livestock production, more animals are concentrated and huge number of these animals are slaughtered and marketed at rock-bottom costs. They generate large amount of wastes which the surrounding soil can not assimilate. They are generally stored in lagoons giving stench with the release of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and methane. Millions of animals are burnt as foot and mouth disease spreads due to increased trade. Cattle are herbivores, but due to free trade, meat of infected sheep and cow are ground into cattle feed resulting in Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) (Shiva, 2001).Massive numbers of closely confined livestock are more prone to infection and the overuse of antibiotics in the diet resulted in the development of resistance in food-borne bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter.

Globalisation supports large fauna and hence there is a decline in small farms as it is put "get big or get out". There is an inverse relationship between farm size and output which is attributed to the efficient use of resources like land, water and the efficiencies of operation, intercropping at multiple times and integrating crops and livestock (Halweil, 2000). Trade liberalization practices have resulted in the structural adjustments, which led to hunger and malnutrition in the third world. Denying food to the hungry and feeding the markets is considered as genocidal. Monopolistic pharmaceutical and biotech companies result in the denial of medicine to the ill through their control over the production of low cost generic drugs. Multinational corporations sell fast-food items containing food additive chemicals and preservatives and drinks having brominated vegetable oils which affect the health of each citizen who consumes them.



Biological diversity is the variety and variability of life on earth. Diversity in our genetic material provides the basis for continued survival in the face of changing environments. India has diverse ecosystems comprising forests, wetlands, agro-ecosystems, coast and inland waters. The diversity of wild species includes about 47.000 plant and 89,000animal species (Chellam, 2001). 80% of the world's population depends on substantially on plant and animal based medicines and in many communities over 40% of food comes from the wild. India has amazing diversity of rice with 50,000 varieties, mango 1000, sorghum 5000, pepper 500 varieties, cattle 27 breeds, goats 22, sheep 40, poultry 18 and buffalo 8 breeds (Kothari, 2001). Biodiversity and health are intrinsically linked. When biodiversity is destroyed, the health of ecosystems and of their individual members is affected.

Globalisation has taken a heavy toll of biodiversity and the livelihood of those directly dependent on natural resources. Global loss of forest, fisheries and agricultural productivity is ever increasing. This leads to greater loss by the destruction of natural habitats resulting in an increasing cycle of droughts and floods with erratic rainfalls. Globalisation causes the rapid erosion of crop and livestock diversity from the agricultural fields and pastures. This inturn affects the stability of our farming systems and soil fertility which made farmers more dependent on markets and outside agencies. Excessive use of synthetic chemicals has affected the genetic diversity on which the development of crops and livestock is used (Kothari, 2001).construction of dams and irrigation projects submerge large areas of forests converting tribals as oustees and affect the downstream aquatic and marine habitats. Rapidly growing tourism has resulted in deforestation, waste generation and ecological damage.

The practice of monoculture results in low levels of biodiversity leading to vacant niches in the fields including different root depths and different nutrient preferences. Monoculture also results in nitrogen pollution due to poorer nitrogen retention than that of a complex farm. This leads to nitrogen runoff reaching seas leading to massive algal blooms. The death of this algae causes the depletion of oxygen due to decomposition by bacteria suffocating fish, shell fish and leaving the ecosystem biologically dead. Agricultural biodiversity controlling the climate variations, pest out breaks and threats to food security is under threat as the forces of globalisation compel large farms and small farmers are left with the only option 'get big or get out'. The small farms offer more productivity by growing more crops utilizing different root depths, plant heights or nutrients (Halweil, 2001). Global corporations want to own our biodiversity, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) on seeds and plants, animals and human genes are aimed at transforming life into the property of multinational corporations who have a scant regard for the preservation of life and health in our ecosystems. Western corporations wanted to claim the products of our biodiversity like neem, turmeric and pepper, which are used by us for a long time (Shiva, 2001). Multinational companies Monsanto and Mahyco conduct field trials of Bt.cotton cultivation in Gujarat. These varieties are genetically modified containing pesticidal genes to produce toxic effects on nontarget organisms (Shiva, 2001).



In agriculture, enhancing biodiversity while increasing productivity and employment generation is possible through organic farming. In Andhra Pradesh, dalit women have demonstrated that biologically diverse farming linked to PDS can enhance livelihoods, employment and the nutritional status of poor people. Decentralized water harvesting by local groups can solve water problems and boost agricultural production. In industries sustainable use of natural dyes, medicinal plants and non-timber forest produce can be practiced. Non-conventional energy sources can be utilised for the generation of power (Kothari, 2001). As Halweil (2000) puts it, "Farmers are professionals, with extensive knowledge of their local soils, weather, native plants, sources of fertilizer or mulch, native pollinators, ecology and community. If we are to have a world where the land is no longer managed by such professionals, but is instead managed by distant corporate bureaucracies interested in extracting maximum output at minimum cost, what kind of food will we have, and at what price?". The government has to bring together public health officials focused on environmental pollution, farmers following practicing organic farming in small farms, supporters of nature conservation campaigns like animal rights activists, labour unions, consumer rights activists, environmental and religious groups to combat the forces of globalisation in order to have a sustainable development.



The authors thank the authorities of their institutions for the encouragements.



Ali, S.U. and Mohan V 1999 Rural biological resources-their conservation and utilisation. In: Environment, Health and Food: A Futuristic view. (Eds. S.John William and S.Vincent), Loyola College, Chennai, India. Pp 56-64.

Chellam, R. 2001 The age of extinction. The Hindu, Folio. May 2001 pp 10-13.

Halweil, B 2000 Where have all the farmers gone?. World watch, September / October 2000, pp 12-28.

Kothari, A 2001a. India's mega diversity The Hindu, Folio. May 2001 pp 25

Kothari, A 2001b. Develop and perish?. The Hindu, Folio. May 2001 pp 34-37.

Kothari, A 2001c. WTO:A right denied. The Hindu, Folio. May 2001 pp 50

Shiva, V 2001a. Violence of globalisation. The Hindu, 25.03.2001.

Shiva, V. 2001b. Bio-Tech as bio-terror The Hindu, Magazine. 11.11.2001 pp 2-8

Go back to EJAIB 13 (5) September 2003
Go back to EJAIB
The Eubios Ethics Institute is on the world wide web of Internet: