Argentinian doctors report on pesticide effects

December 2011

Cielos y campos de la pampa Argentina 3 / Skies and fields from Argentina's pampa 3
Photo by Claudio. Ar on Flickr
Argentina has moved aggressively down an agricultural path of intensive, agrichemical-dependent, genetically modified monoculture.

In many areas, the main crops are limited to transgenic corn and soya, on which the herbicides glyphosate, 2,4-D and atrazine, and the insecticides cypermethrin, endosulfan and chlorpyrifos, are applied an average of 18 times (sometimes as much as 42 times) between October and March.

Pesticide use has escalated from 35 million litres in 1990 to 300 million litres in 2009, with glyphosate expected to account for 200 million litres in 2010. During aerial spraying, the drift of poisonous substances is uncontrollable and can continue over many hundreds of miles for several days.

During the crop-growing season, 12 million Argentineans are directly sprayed. A proportion of the 300 million litres of applied chemicals ends up on houses, schools, parks, water sources, sports fields and work areas. Besides spray drift, the people also come into contact with the pesticides during the handling of the chemicals and grains, and when disposing of contaminated waste.

For nearly 10 years, the residents of rural and outer urban areas have been protesting to the authorities, to the courts, and to the general public that their health is being adversely affected by this extensive and excessive contact with pesticides. They have received little attention.

However a damning report prepared in 2010, and only recently published in English, supports everything the public has been saying and adds a lot more detail which can only be described as nightmarish.

The report was compiled by physicians who are in a unique position to observe what has been inflicted on the people around them. These doctors have been serving the same populations for many years, generally over 25. They have, indeed, observed the clinical manifestations of acute poisoning which match the accounts of their patients, but are even more alarmed by the increases in reproductive problems and serious diseases.

Every physician seems to tell the same tale: rising birth-defects, miscarriages, fertility problems, cancers in adults and children, skin and respiratory disease, toxic liver disease, and neurological disorders. For example, one hospital has recorded an increase in birth defects from 19.1 per 10,000 live births in 1997 (pre-GM monocultures) to 85.5 in 2008. For example, one university recorded an increase of childhood cancers from 8.03 per 100,000 in 1991 to 15.7 in 2007. For example, the Latin American Center for Congenital Birth Defects recorded a 70-fold increase in neural tube defects in infants from highly fumigated areas compared with elsewhere in the country.

The relevance of Carrasco's research on glyphosate damage to amphibian and chicken embryos (both accepted models for early human embryo development) was noted (see ROUNDUP CAUSES BIRTH-DEFECTS – GMFS News Archive, October 2010). Also noted was research from America, Canada and the Philippines showing an association between pesticide exposure and birth defects.

The physicians are additionally concerned that, since most miscarriages will go unreported, the actual rate in affected areas may be very high indeed. They also point out that associated developmental and psychological problems have not been investigated.

Their conclusion is that they are only witnessing a tiny fraction of the total damage being inflicted on the population, and stress that:
“The main limitation of the studies on the toxic effects of pesticides consists in their not being able to wholly demonstrate the cause-effect relationship. The subjects under study cannot be deliberately exposed to hazardous poisons in a randomized controlled test; the evidence provided by well constructed clinical and epidemiological observation studies, such those analysed herein presents the highest level of evidence that we can ethically obtain”.
Proposals appended to the report include:
  • “... the public and society to listen, recognize and acknowledge what health and science experts state – toxic pesticides are poisonous and they are making us sick. The diseases that we are exposed to everyday are not random ...
  • ... It is necessary to research, select, and agree to (agricultural) production systems that allow for social and cultural integration ...”


You may have read pro-GM suggestions that biotech crops use less pesticides. Such claims are usually based on measuring the weight of active ingredient in the spray. This is very misleading from a safety point of view, because humans are exposed to pesticides due to the volume of spray which becomes suspended in the air. Put another way, 'more spray' equals 'more exposure' and can easily equal 'more damage to health' even if there's less weight of 'active' ingredient in the spray.

The most significant statement in the Argentinean physicians report is that of the need to use “well constructed clinical and epidemiological observation studies” as “the highest level of evidence that we can ethically obtain”. This is a universal truth in the quest for safe chemicals and for safe food.

The claim, often made in industry PR releases, parroted by government officials who have been lobbied or paid, and slipped in by many scientists who should know better, that millions of people have been consuming GM for decades without evidence of harm is a nonsense: neither clinical nor epidemiological evidence have been gathered; indeed, the blanket, unmonitored, insinuation of GM products into the diets of unsuspecting Americans against a background of escalating chronic disease makes it supremely difficult to measure any super-imposed health changes until they become catastrophic.

It's not comforting that all this vast level of suffering being inflicted on the people of Argentina is serving to do little more than line the pockets of industry, fill the coffers of the Argentinean government with taxes on soya, and supply cheap meat and dairy to many people who are over-fed in the first place.

  • Report from the 1st National Meeting of Physicians in the Crop-sprayed Towns, Faculty of Medical Sciences, National University of Cordoba, 27th and 28th August 2010
  • Argentinean report identifies major medical problems associated with RR soy, GM Watch 28.10.11

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