A new report has linked unregulated agrochemical use in Argentina to increased cancer rates, birth defects and other health problems there. The Associated Press’ report described pesticide use near heavily populated areas, children being regularly exposed to harmful agrochemicals, the contamination of water supplies, and workers who were not properly trained to handle such pesticides.
The AP report focused on regions in Argentina that produce soybeans, cotton and corn. According to the news agency, Argentina adopted the use of genetically modified organisms, GMOs, as well as agrochemicals from Monsanto Co., in 1996 and all of the country’s soy crops, with corn and cotton just behind, are genetically modified.
Despite the claims from Monsanto that pesticide use would decrease with GMO crops, the new report indicates instead a dramatic increase, from nine million gallons used in 1990 to 84 million gallons in 2013. That number, per square acre, is more than double the pesticide use in the United States, reports AP.
While Argentina has regulations in place concerning agrochemical and pesticide use, the report revealed many of these rules were largely ignored. Spraying was prohibited around populated areas but the AP report revealed chemicals were being used as close as 165 feet from populated areas instead of the 1.9 miles that was legally allowed. Argentina president Cristina Fernandez did set up a commission in 2009 but that group has not met since 2010.
The biggest problem, and what led to the increased use in pesticides, is developed resistance. While production can be increased by using GMOs and resorting to a “no-till” method of farming, which does not disturb the top soil and reduces costs and time, pests develop a resistance to pesticides which leads to more spraying. As noted by AP, the main ingredient in Monsato’s Roundup brand is Glyphosate, which is considered safe to the point the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency increased the safety threshold of glyphosate residue in food in May of this year.
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Despite warnings and regulations, pesticide misuse is rampant in Argentina and has led to many health problems, reports AP. According to the findings, “Cancer rates in provincial towns surrounded by soy farming are 2 to 4 times higher than the national average.” While it is not clear if birth defect rates featured such an increase across all provinces, one province did see a fourfold increase since 1996, when GMOs were first introduced. Monsanto spokesman Thomas Helscher notes the problem is not the chemicals but the misuse and was quoted as saying, "Monsanto takes the stewardship of products seriously and we communicate regularly with our customers regarding proper use of our products."
The AP’s report is just the latest in a series of negative developments affecting public and government policy on GMOs. As reported on Huffington Post, Mexico banned the use of genetically modified corn, while the controversial “Monsanto Protection Act” was defeated in the United States. In response to increased concern, Monsanto and DuPont launched a website about agrochemicals and GMOs. Scientists are also disseminating new information on the possible health risks associated with pesticides and genetically modified foods, and hoping to counter common misconceptions about the issue.