Academic journal article Theory in Action

Regulatory Science and Social Movements: The Trial against the Use of Pesticides in Argentina

Academic journal article Theory in Action

Regulatory Science and Social Movements: The Trial against the Use of Pesticides in Argentina

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In 1996, Argentina pioneered the adoption of genetically modified (GM) soy, and other varieties of GM seeds - corn, cotton - soon followed. The genetic manipulation made the seeds resistant to the herbicide Roundup, based on the chemical glyphosate. As a broadspectrum, non-selective weed killer, glyphosate inhibits an enzyme in plants that does not exist in human and animal cells, killing all plant life except the crop. As a result GM soy seeds could be grown without any need to plow. The adoption of GM seeds in Argentina was surprisingly fast and widespread, and it marked a turning point (Vara 2005). Since then, the agricultural sector has embarked on a pathway of change in which intensive, high input commodity crop production has become dominant. Today Argentina is the third world producer of GM soy, after the US and Brazil; and is the world leader in soy oil (45% of the global market), and soy flour (43%) production. GM soy represents 25% of Argentine exports. Since 1996 the number of hectares under cultivation of GM crops has increased exponentially in Argentina, along with the growth of the use of glyphosate-based herbicides (REDUAS - Médicos de Pueblos Fumigados 2002).

While agrarian productivity levels increased; rural populations started to report an increase in the incidence of certain pathologies which they associated to the use of glyphosate. Simultaneously, a growing number of independent studies from various countries have revealed links between pesticide exposure and the reported illnesses: cancer, reproductive health ailments, including miscarriages, birth defects, infertility, delayed pregnancies (Antoniou and Fagan 2012, Arbuckle, Lin, and Mery 2001, Axelrad, Howard, and McLean 2003, Benachour and Séralini 2009, Dallegrave et al. 2003, Hardell, Eriksson, and Nordstrom 2002, Marc, Mulner-Lorillon, and Bellé 2004, Marc et al. 2005, Marc, Bellé, et al. 2004, McDuffie et al. 2001, Paganelli et al. 2010, Richard et al. 2005, De Roos et al. 2005, Seralini et al. 2012, Dallegrave et al., 2003).

However, the claims of those groups were almost entirely ignored by Argentina's regulatory, health and science and technology systems. In fact, all of these systems have played a key role in facilitating agricultural intensification, and further agro-biotechnological development. By the time that GM soy was approved (1996), glyphosate was already used for other purposes. Approved by the National Service of Sanitation and Food Quality (SENASA) in 1977, it was revalidated in 1992 as a product of "low toxicity, implying no risk" adopting a special classification of the World Health Organization which only considers lethal damage at acute levels of exposure (defined by the methodology DL 50)1. Based on this classification, no restrictions to the commercialization or use of glyphosate were determined in Argentina. The toxicological classification by SENASA never changed and no epidemiological or toxicological studies were conducted by the Ministry of Health in order to assess the non-lethal effects of glyphosate at chronical exposure reported by rural populations and social movements.

Even if protests were dissipated without impacting national regulations, some promoted new protective measures that restricted the use of glyphosate-based pesticides at the local level. Even if at the national level there was no change, some progress has been made at the local level2. A set of regulations to fill the gaps in the national regulatory framework have been enacted by municipal and provincial legislators (Vara, Piaz, and Arancibia 2012). These new laws and ordinances have established "pesticide-free zones" around populated areas and restricted ground and aerial spraying of pesticides including glyphosate based herbicides. However, the enforcement of the new laws and ordinances has proved very difficult, as the surveillance capacity of the police is almost nonexistent and penalties for infractions are hard to implement. …

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