Saturday, December 10, 2011

Poison from the Sky

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 9, 2011 (IPS) - Argentina's soy boom has been a major source of foreign exchange. But the other side of the coin is the toxic effects among the rural population, from spraying agrochemicals.

Research by the National University of Río Cuarto in the northwestern province of Córdoba demonstrated that glyphosate, the herbicide used on transgenic soy crops, causes genetic damage in mice and amphibians, like frogs. 
Two years ago, another research study by Andrés Carrasco, a professor at the Molecular Embryology Laboratory of the University of Buenos Aires School of Medicine and principal researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET), also demonstrated damage in amphibians. 

Genetically modified (GM) soy seeds, approved amid controversy in the 1990s for use in Argentina, were developed by the U.S.-based multinational biotechnology corporation Monsanto to be resistant to glyphosate, the active principle in the "Roundup" herbicide sold by the company. 
Introduction of the GM seeds launched an expansion of soy cultivation and increased use of glyphosate. Today, 18 million hectares are planted to soy, out of a total of nearly 30 million hectares of all kinds of grain crops.  Sales of "Roundup" herbicide, which contains glyphosate and other ingredients that aid its absorption by plants, soared dramatically from one million litres a year in the 1990s to nearly 300 million litres a year today, according to official figures.  In 2006, a group of NGOs with access to medical reports from provinces where soy cultivation was expanding, launched the "Stop the Spraying" ("Paren de Fumigar") campaign, which managed to get an official commission created to look into the reports of health damages. 

But the commission produced no results, and Monsanto insists that, with proper precautions, the herbicide is not toxic.  Delia Aiassa, a biologist in the Genetics and Environmental Mutagenesis group at the Natural Sciences Department of the University of Río Cuarto, leads a research team studying the impact of glyphosate on health.  The expert explained that exposure to glyphosate can cause asthma, chronic bronchitis, skin and eye irritation, damage to the kidneys, liver and nervous system, cancer, developmental problems in children and birth defects. More