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

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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