When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Argentina

Where Soy Is King: In Argentina, Local Health Costs Rise As Agro Booms

Growing demand and rising world food prices have brought about an agricultural boom in Argentina. But it’s also meant a steady increase in the use of farm chemicals, which critics say is responsible for climbing cancer rates and other serious health probl

A soy field in San Pedro, Argentina (Irargerich)
A soy field in San Pedro, Argentina (Irargerich)
Christine Legrand

SAN JORGE -- Located about 600 kilometers from Buenos Aires, San Jorge is a tidy town of about 25,000 in Santa Fe, one of Argentina's most agriculture-rich provinces. In the poor Urquiza neighborhood, a single dirt road separates the house of Viviana Peralta from an expanse of soy fields, where herbicides and pesticides are regularly sprayed down from small airplanes.

It took a while, but eventually the young Argentine mother connected the dots: the acute asthma attacks her baby daughter Ailen suffered were triggered each time a crop duster buzzed over her house. At a nearby hospital, a pediatrician later confirmed the presence of glyphosate in Ailen's blood.

Glyphosate is the principal active ingredient in Roundup, a herbicide developed and marketed by Monsanto, an American company. It has been widely used in Argentina since 1997. When it is sprayed on the country's soy fields, Roundup kills all of the weeds it comes in contact with, but spares the Roundup Ready (RR) soy beans, which have been genetically modified to be Roundup resistant.

In San Jorge, cancer rates have spiked 30% in the past 10 years. Residents say that following a crop dusting, their lips turn blue and their tongues swell. Chickens die. Dogs and cats shed their hair. Bees disappear and birds become scarce.

After she was ignored by municipal authorities, Peralta decided to turn to the courts. A judge agreed to hear the case that she, along with 23 other neighborhood families, presented against the Argentine government, provincial authorities and soy producers.

On March 17, 2009, the court issued a historic verdict, prohibiting airplanes from crop dusting within 1,500 meters of residences, and tractors from spraying within 800 meters of people's homes.

But this verdict, and other new regulations, are not always respected. Roundup, furthermore, can remain suspended in the atmosphere for a long time and travel many kilometers, carried by wind and rain.

"Glyphosate isn't the holy water they wanted us to believe in," says Carlos Manessi, an agronomist who serves as a Santa Fe provincial coordinator for a national anti-spraying campaign. Manessi points out Argentine authorities carried out no scientific tests of their own before allowing Monsanto to market Roundup in Argentina. Instead they approved the product "based only on a Monsanto report submitted in English that was never even translated."

"Green gold fever"

Local soy bean producers are convinced Roundup is harmless. "Banning it would be like banning aspirin," one of them says. ‘Green Gold" fever has swept across Argentina, where farmers are trying to capitalize on increased demand from emerging economies and soaring world prices. Argentina is the world's third leading soy producer, and the number one exporter of derivatives such as soy soil and soy flour. An estimated 17 million hectares are planted with RR beans.

In the cold southern winter, on either side of highway 10 which connects Santa Fe to Cordoba, another rich agricultural province, unfolds a landscape of gray land that's been treated with Roundup prior to planting. Cows, the traditional inhabitants of the Argentine pampa, have been moved indoors. Even the smallest parcel of land, including the earth running directly alongside the highway, is reserved for soy.

"Anyone who talks about the dangers of glyphosate is called crazy. They're accused of being anti-prosperity," says Viviana Peralta, who claims she has been offered money to move away.

Yet despite the pressures against speaking out, a resistance movement has developed in several provinces. In Cordoba, a group called the Association of Mothers of Ituzaingo says there have been more than 200 cases of cancer in their community of approximately 5,000 people.

In Argentina's agricultural provinces, many lawmakers and other local leaders are themselves farmers, or else have major investments in soy production operations. The majority of agricultural engineers work for pesticide manufacturers. On the other side of the debate are rural doctors, more and more of whom are witnessing what they say is a "health nightmare."

"This affects 12 million people in Argentina," says Medardo Avila Vazquez, coordinator of an organization of doctors protesting against the widespread use of Roundup.

In the province of Chaco, which borders Paraguay, a study carried out over the past 10 years in a town called La Leonesa suggests that cancer rates have tripled while the incidence of malformations has quadrupled. The situation has created tensions between residents and rice farmers, who use glyphosate and spray from airplanes. Residents demand the spraying be done at a reasonable distance from homes, schools and bodies of water. They also want authorities to carry out official studies on the health of the residents and the local environment.

Andres Carrasco, an embryologist from the University of Buenos Aires, published a study in late 2010 demonstrating the toxic effects glyphosate can have on amphibian embryos. His work has earned him no shortage of enemies. He was physically attacked on a visit to La Leonesa and the conference he was scheduled to give there was canceled.

"I didn't discover anything new," he says. "I just confirmed what other scientists had already discovered. The scientific evidence is there. Above all, there are the hundreds of ill and malformed people who are the living proof of this health emergency."

Carrasco recalls that in France and the United States, Monsanto was found guilty of false advertising for claiming its herbicide is "100% biodegradable."

In Argentina, the use of Roundup continues to increase since weeds develop resistance to the chemical. In 1991, the country consumed an estimated million liters of glyphosate. By 2009 the amount had risen to a staggering 200 million liters.

Read the original story in French

Photo - Irargerich

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Economy

Europe's Winter Energy Crisis Has Already Begun

in the face of Russia's stranglehold over supplies, the European Commission has proposed support packages and price caps. But across Europe, fears about the cost of living are spreading – and with it, doubts about support for Ukraine.

Protesters on Thursday in the German state of Thuringia carried Russian flags and signs: 'First our country! Life must be affordable.'

Martin Schutt/dpa via ZUMA
Stefanie Bolzen, Philipp Fritz, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister, Mandoline Rutkowski, Stefan Schocher, Claus, Christian Malzahn and Nikolaus Doll

-Analysis-

In her State of the Union address on September 14, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, issued an urgent appeal for solidarity between EU member states in tackling the energy crisis, and towards Ukraine. Von der Leyen need only look out her window to see that tensions are growing in capital cities across Europe due to the sharp rise in energy prices.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

In the Czech Republic, people are already taking to the streets, while opposition politicians elsewhere are looking to score points — and some countries' support for Ukraine may start to buckle.

With winter approaching, Europe is facing a true test of both its mettle, and imagination.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ