Rising agrochemical use in Argentina sees jump in disease rates
By Michael Warren and Natacha Pisarenko, APBASAVILBASO, Argentina -- Argentine farmworker Fabian Tomasi wasn't trained to use protective gear as he pumped pesticides into crop dusters. Now at 47, he's a living skeleton.
October 22, 2013, 12:06 am TWN
Schoolteacher Andrea Druetta lives in a town where it's illegal to spray agrochemicals within 500 meters (550 yards) of homes, and yet soy is planted just 30 meters (33 yards) from her back door. Recently, her boys were showered in chemicals while swimming in their backyard pool.
Sofia Gatica's search for answers after losing her newborn to kidney failure led to Argentina's first criminal convictions for illegal spraying last year. But 80 percent of her neighbors' children surveyed carry pesticides in their blood.
American biotechnology has turned Argentina into the world's third-largest soy producer, but the chemicals powering the boom aren't confined to soy and cotton and corn fields. The Associated Press documented dozens of cases where these poisons are used in ways specifically banned by existing law.
Now doctors are warning that uncontrolled pesticide use could be the cause of growing health problems among the 12 million people who live in the South American nation's vast farm belt.
Double, Quadruple Problem Rates
In Santa Fe province, the heart of Argentina's soy industry, cancer rates are two times to four times higher than the national average. In Chaco, the nation's poorest province, children became four times more likely to be born with devastating birth defects in the decade since biotechnology dramatically expanded industrial agriculture.
“The change in how agriculture is produced has brought, frankly, a change in the profile of diseases,” says Dr. Medardo Avila Vazquez, a pediatrician who co-founded Doctors of Fumigated Towns. “We've gone from a pretty healthy population to one with a high rate of cancer, birth defects, and illnesses seldom seen before.”
Once known for its grass-fed beef, Argentina has undergone a remarkable transformation since 1996, when the St. Louis-based Monsanto Company marketed a promising new model of higher crop yields and fewer pesticides through its patented seeds and chemicals.
Aixa Cano, 5, who has hairy moles all over her body that doctors can't explain, sits on a stoop outside her home in Avia Terai, in Chaco province, Argentina on April 1. Although ...
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