Camila Veron, 2, born with multiple organ problems and severely disabled, stands outside her home in Avia Terai, in Chaco province, Argentina, March 31, 2013. Her mother was told, “the water made this happen because they spray a lot of poison here.”
CREDIT: Natacha Pisarenko/AP
Vic Bishop, Staff
Argentinean “farm belt” communities with population of 12 million people know, perhaps more than others, the costs of becoming one of the early adopters of Monsanto’s biotech farming model. The country, historically known for its grass-fed beef industry, has undergone a profound change over the last 20 years as it transitioned into becoming one of the biggest world producers of genetically-modified (GM) soybeans.
In 1996, Monsanto came in with its promises of higher crop yields and lower pesticide use, selling its GM soy seeds, as well as corn and cotton seeds. The farming communities took to these promises only to find themselves using nine times more agrochemicals by 2013 at a combined 84 million gallons per year, compared to nine million gallons in 1990, and faced with a surge of health problems such as hypothyroidism, chronic respiratory illnesses and cancer.
Agrochemicals are now routinely found in homes, schools and drinking water nearby soy, cotton and corn fields. They are handled inside residential neighborhoods with little training or compliance regarding protective gear and mixing concentrations. Pesticide storage containers are often reused in farming communities, at times to even hold drinking water.
Empty agrochemical containers lay discarded at a recycling center in Quimili, Santiago del Estero province, Argentina, May 2, 2013. CREDIT: Natacha Pisarenko/AP
Although spraying herbicides and pesticides next to residential homes and schools is forbidden in many Argentinean provinces, the reality is that most laws regarding agrochemical usage are ignored and their enforcement is lackadaisical, at best. Some provinces allow spraying as close as 55 yards from populated areas, and about one-third of the provinces have no limits whatsoever. There are many documented cases where GM crops are planted just a few feet away from homes and classroom windows, resulting in chemical spray drifting into schools full of children and into family homes.
With soybeans selling for about $500 a ton, growers plant where they can, often disregarding Monsanto’s guidelines and provincial law by spraying with no advance warning, and even in windy conditions.
“I prepared millions of liters of poison without any kind of protection, no gloves, masks or special clothing,” he said. “I didn’t know anything. I only learned later what it did to me, after contacting scientists.” [Source]
A collective of doctors and scientists are now actively warning against the uncontrolled use of agrochemicals. These professionals believe that the chemicals are responsible for a surge in health problems in farming communities and around the country.
“The change in how agriculture is produced has brought, frankly, a change in the profile of diseases. We’ve gone from a pretty healthy population to one with a high rate of cancer, birth defects, and illnesses seldom seen before.”~ Dr. Medardo Avila Vazquez, a pediatrician and neonatologist who co-founded Doctors of Fumigated Towns, part of a growing movement demanding enforcement of agricultural safety rules
The Associated Press documented dozens of cases where agrochemicals were used unsafely and the resulting impact on families and communities, many of them reflected in the images below.
Former farmworker Fabian Tomasi, 47, of Basavilbaso, in Entre Rios province, Argentina, on March 29, 2013. Tomasi suffers from polyneuropathy. “I prepared millions of liters of poison without any kind of protection, no gloves, masks or special clothing. I didn’t know anything. I only learned later what it did to me, after contacting scientists,” he said. CREDIT: Natacha Pisarenko/AP
Students ride a motorbike past a field of biotech corn on their way to school in Pozo del Toba, Santiago del Estero province, Argentina, May 3, 2013. CREDIT: Natacha Pisarenko/AP
Locals wait to speak with Dr. Damian Verzenassi about health concerns they have about agrochemicals in the main square of Alvear, in Santa Fe province, Argentina, March 9, 2013. CREDIT: Natacha Pisarenko/AP
Aixa Cano, 5, who has hairy moles all over her body, sits on a stoop outside her home in Avia Terai, in Chaco province, Argentina, April 1, 2013. Doctors say Aixa’s birth defect may be linked to agrochemicals, although this cannot be proven. In Chaco, children are four times more likely to be born with devastating birth defects since the biotechnology boom. CREDIT: Natacha Pisarenko/AP
Silvia Alvarez leans against her home while keeping an eye on her son, Ezequiel Moreno, who was born with hydrocephalus, in Gancedo, in Chaco province, Argentina, April 1, 2013. Chaco provincial birth reports show that congenital defects quadrupled in the decade after GM crops arrived. CREDIT: Natacha Pisarenko/AP
Activist Oscar Alfredo Di Vincensi has been fighting that agrochemical spraying not be allowed within 1,000 meters of homes. Pictured here in the main square of Alberti, in Buenos Aires province, Argentina, April 16, 2013. Di Vincensi stood in a field waving a court order barring spraying within 1,000 meters of homes in his town of Alberti; a tractor driver doused him in pesticide. CREDIT: Natacha Pisarenko/AP
Erika, left, and her twin sister Macarena, who suffer from chronic respiratory illness, play in their backyard near recycled agrochemical containers filled with water that is used for flushing their toilet, feeding their chickens and washing their clothes, near the town of Avia Terai, in Chaco province, Argentina, on March 31, 2013. CREDIT: Natacha Pisarenko/AP
Felix San Roman walks on his property in Rawson, in Buenos Aires province, Argentina, April 16, 2013. San Roman was beaten by farmers when he complained about clouds of chemicals drifting onto his property. “This is a small town where nobody confronts anyone, and the authorities look the other way. All I want is for them to follow the existing law, which says you can’t do this within 1,500 meters. Nobody follows this. How can you control it?” he said. CREDIT: Natacha Pisarenko/AP
Glyphosate is listed as one of the world’s safest herbicides, which has resulted in farmers using it in higher concentrations and mixing it with other harmful poisons. The Argentinean government has relied on industry research provided by the EPA to help guide its recommendations regarding glyphosate use. On their website, the EPA states, “Glyphosate has low toxicity for humans. Protective eye wear is recommended for the few products that may cause eye irritation. Entry into agricultural fields is allowed 12-hours after application of these products.” Hence, any efforts or recommendations towards stricter regulations in Argentina continue to fizzle out or have been completely ignored. Glyphosate mixed with other agrochemicals continues to be applied directly to crops on a vast scale throughout the country.
Molecular biologist Dr. Andres Carrasco at the University of Buenos Aires says the burden from the chemical cocktails is worrisome, but even glyphosate alone could spell trouble for human health. He found that injecting a very low dose of glyphosate into embryos can change levels of retinoic acid, causing the same sort of spinal defects in frogs and chickens that doctors increasingly are registering in communities where farm chemicals are ubiquitous.
This acid, a form of vitamin A, is fundamental for keeping cancers in check and triggering genetic expression, the process by which embryonic cells develop into organs and limbs.
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