Argentina is the world’s third largest soybean producer since Monsanto arrived in 1996; and while yields have gone up, so have birth defects and cancer.
“The country’s farm belt continues to pump out commodity crops like soy, corn and cotton at an impressive rate with the help of not just commonplace herbicides such as glyphosate, but highly toxic substances like 2,4,D—otherwise known as Agent Orange.”
A lengthy Associated Press article sites “lax oversight and regulation, misuse, resistance and poor safety measures have lead to mass exposure of Argentines who work or live nearby farms.”
“The Associated Press documented dozens of cases around the country where poisons are applied in ways unanticipated by regulatory science or specifically banned by existing law. The spray drifts into schools and homes and settles over water sources; farmworkers mix poisons with no protective gear; villagers store water in pesticide containers that should have been destroyed.
Now doctors are warning that uncontrolled pesticide applications could be the cause of growing health problems among the 12 million people who live in the South American nation’s vast farm belt.”
Some argue the safety of the herbicide glyphosate, but it is important to take into consideration that its use is being abused as farmers attempt to increase their productivity.
“Argentina was among the earliest adopters of the new biotech farming model promoted by Monsanto and other U.S. agribusinesses.
Instead of turning the topsoil, spraying pesticides and then waiting until the poison dissipates before planting, farmers sow the seeds and spray afterward without harming crops genetically modified to tolerate specific chemicals.
This “no-till” method takes so much less time and money that farmers can reap more harvests and expand into land not worth the trouble before.”
Yet these mixtures are known to be so unsafe, that their usage has prompted new recommendations.
“In 2006, a division of Argentina’s agriculture ministry recommended adding caution labels urging that mixtures of glyphosate and more toxic chemicals be limited to “farm areas far from homes and population centers.” The recommendation was ignored, according to the federal audit.”
This lengthy AP article includes a series of disturbing photographs as well as a few more personal stories.
“Argentine farmworker Fabian Tomasi was never trained to handle pesticides. His job was to keep the crop-dusters flying by filling their tanks as quickly as possible, although it often meant getting drenched in poison.
Now, at 47, he’s a living skeleton, so weak he can hardly leave his house in Entre Rios province.
Schoolteacher Andrea Druetta lives in Santa Fe Province, the heart of Argentina’s soy country, where agrochemical spraying is banned within 500 meters (550 yards) of populated areas. But soy is planted just 30 meters (33 yards) from her back door. Her boys were showered in chemicals recently while swimming in the backyard pool.
After Sofia Gatica lost her newborn to kidney failure, she filed a complaint that led to Argentina’s first criminal convictions for illegal spraying. But last year’s verdict came too late for many of her 5,300 neighbors in Ituzaingo Annex. A government study there found alarming levels of agrochemical contamination in the soil and drinking water, and 80 percent of the children surveyed carried traces of pesticide in their blood.”
The AP article also promotes further investigation since after “visiting these farm villages, the AP found chemicals in places where they were never intended to be.”
Notably interviewed was Dr. Maria del Carmen Seveso.
Seveso, “who has spent 33 years running intensive care wards and ethics committees in Chaco province, became alarmed at regional birth reports showing a quadrupling of congenital defects, from 19.1 per 10,000 to 85.3 per 10,000 in the decade after genetically modified crops and their agrochemicals were approved in Argentina.”
He agrees with other scientists that broader, long-term studies are needed.
” ‘That’s why we do epidemiological studies for heart disease and smoking and all kinds of things,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a former EPA regulator now with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “If you have the weight of evidence pointing to serious health problems, you don’t wait until there’s absolute proof in order to do something.’ “
View the full AP article and accompanying photos here.
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Ed: Sara Crolick