Questions Raised throughout South America regarding Use and Abuse of Agrochemicals
Gaudin, Andres, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs
What began as a straight-forward journalistic investigation into modern farming practices in Argentina has turned into something of a regional rallying cry for critics of the US-based firm Monsanto and other large multinational agricultural firms involved in the production of genetically modified (transgenic) seeds and potent agrochemicals, which tend to be used hand in hand with those seeds.
The article in question--written and researched by Associated Press (AP) reporters Michael Warren and Natacha Pisarenko--was published on Oct. 20 with a dateline from Basavilbaso, in the eastern Argentine province of Entre Rios. There, transgenic soybean plantations have replaced the traditional farms started by Jewish and Italian immigrants who founded the city in the late 1800s. The article's appearance coincides with a growing movement in South America against Monsanto, a US company based in St. Louis, Missouri. Critics worry about the adverse effects Monsanto products such as Roundup --a powerful and widely used herbicide made with the chemical glyphosate--could be having on humans, animals, plant life, water supplies, and the environment in general.
Monsanto made use of a follow up article--published two days after the scathing report went public--to respond to the AP's claims. The company criticized the Warren and Pisarenko piece as being "overbroad" and insisted that "glyphosate is safe." Monsanto also urged Argentina to better control how the company's products are used. "If pesticides are being misused in Argentina, then it is in everyone's best interests--the public, the government, farmers, industry, and Monsanto--that the misuse be stopped," the company insisted.
A large testing ground
Monsanto has attracted criticism throughout Latin America, including in Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Panama. But it has come under particular fire in Argentina, where it decided to build a transgenic seed plant in the central province of Cordoba. Monsanto's special relationship with the country dates back to the mid-1990s (NotiSur, Feb. 27, 2004). Through a deal signed in 1996, the multinational was able to turn Argentina into a vast laboratory in which farmers--too excited about the generous harvests that resulted to worry about potential long term problems--began planting more and more genetically modified seeds and using copious amounts of defoliating herbicides, namely Roundup.
Despite warnings from experts all over the world, the governments of what the multinational company Syngenta calls the "United Republic of Soy" (Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay) have not studied the already detected effects of these new agricultural practices. Not only that, but in Argentina, for example, the state-run Instituto Nacional de Tecnologia Agropecuaria (INTA) openly promotes the use of both glyphosate and transgenic seeds.
The construction of Monsanto's Cordoba factory, slated for the city of Malvinas Argentinas, came to a halt in mid-October when hundreds of residents descended on the site and blocked trucks from delivering materials. The Fundacion para la Defensa del Medio Ambiente (FUNAM), in the meantime, has filed legal complaints against two provincial government officials who "approved and authorized construction of the largest corn-seed factory in the world without taking the minimum precautions and without having the [corresponding] environmental-impact studies," according to agronomy expert Raul Montenegro, the organization's president.
Once completed, the facility will have 240 storage silos with enough genetically modified seeds in them to plant 3.5 million hectares of crops. Researcher Medardo Avila Vazquez, head of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Medicos de Pueblos Fumigados, said one of the risks of this endeavor is a health condition known as farmer's lung, a potentially chronic inflammation that humans can develop after inhaling dust particles derived from agricultural products. …