Science in Society Archive

Declaration of Physicians in Crop-sprayed Towns in Argentina at 3rd National Congress

Faculty of Medicine, University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, 17 October  2015

Original Publication:

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Five years after the first meeting at the Faculty of Medical Sciences of Córdoba, we -  scientists, doctors and members of health teams from sprayed villages of Argentina -gathered in the Aula Magna of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), to verify that what we said then is emphatically true and getting worse by the day. The current system of agricultural production in the country pollutes the environment and our food, sickening and killing human populations in agricultural areas.

In the last 25 years, the consumption of pesticides increased by 983 % (from 38 to 370 million kilos), while the cultivated area increased by 50 % (from 20 million ha to 30 million ha). A production system based on the systematic application of agricultural poisons means, inevitably, that nature responds by adapting, forcing farmers to apply greater quantities of pesticides in the field to achieve the same objectives. Over the years a system has been created by and for sellers of pesticides, who every year increase their net sales (in 2015 the increase was 9%) while our patients, too, year after year are being exposed to this pesticide pollution more and more.

There is no doubt that the massive and growing exposure to pesticides changed the disease profile of Argentina’s rural populations and that cancer is the leading cause of death among them (and the worst way to die).

Research presented at the congress show studies at different scales, which highlight a consistent pattern of toxicity. From small towns to larger populations at the provincial level (as in Chaco and Córdoba) or national level, different levels of exposure to glyphosate or agricultural poisons in general are compared, showing that reproductive health is affected by increases in spontaneous abortions and birth defects. Also increased are endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism, neurological disorders or cognitive development problems and soaring of cancer rates - a tripling of incidence, prevalence and mortality - which are directly related to pesticide exposure. In parallel, data from studies in experimental models show that the genotoxicity of glyphosate and other pesticides is an underlying biological mechanism that explains its relationship with disease that doctors have found in our patients. Furthermore, genotoxicity has been verified in agricultural populations (adults and children) exposed to pesticides, while being absent in populations that are not fumigated.

Distribution of soya planted left and distribution of cancer mortality in Cordoba and Santa Fe, according Minagria and provincial Ministry of Health

During 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC WHO) recognized the human carcinogenicity of several pesticides, including glyphosate. This is the most widely used pesticide in the world and Argentina consumed 240 million kilos in the last year generating a potential average exposure of 6 kilos per person per year, the highest in the world. Glyphosate is bought and stored anywhere and is applied without any restriction over schools, neighbourhoods, streets and villages, subjecting people to indiscriminate and unnecessary exposure.

Environmental pollution with toxic chemicals and even carcinogens in food we bring to cities is increasing. For example, it was found that one serving of a common salad contains about 600 µg of agrochemicals; and now we know that even cotton swabs, gauze, panty liners and tampons marketed in our country contain glyphosate. There are no maximum residue limits for chemicals that are safe when they cause cancer, its absolute absence should be guaranteed.

The system of producing food in our society (field crops with poisons and industrial manufacturing) results in the destruction of native forests, land desertification, depletion and pollution of soil, water from streams and rivers, expulsion and eviction of indigenous populations, peasants and family farmers, exacerbates climate change and sprays hundreds of schools with children inside. It is strongly promulgated in the production and consumption of highly processed food including salt, sugar, fats and compounds such as soy lecithin, corn syrup, high fructose, dyes, flavourings and others that today international agencies state as responsible for chronic, non-communicable diseases as obesity, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. These fill the supermarkets, offered in an eye-catching way geared especially to vulnerable populations and especially children, in violation of food safety.

All these elements in the field of public health are a warning to the toxic nature of agriculture in general and GM agriculture in particular, they have grown in our country as a result of the immense influence of large multinational pesticide companies like Monsanto, Bayer Syngenta, Down, Dupont, etc., who are just looking to increase their sales regardless of the damage to environmental and public health from this system.

Our diagnosis of socio-environmental health is complemented by crucial immediate and long-term action. We demand the authorities of the national and provincial state recognize the requests made in previous Congresses and in the “Yes to Life No to Glyphosate Campaign” of the Federation of Health Professionals and the Andres Carrasco Collective.

To defend the human right to life, a healthy life and a healthy environment we demand:

1. Comprehensive ban on aerial spraying in the country with any kind of agrochemicals. The levels of pollution generated is unacceptable for the environment and human health.

2. Prohibition of all pesticides IARC-WHO recognized as human carcinogens grades 1, 2A and 2B, especially glyphosate. There is no need to justify the risk of generating cancer in people exposed environmentally or through contaminated food.

3. While the near total ban on glyphosate term is reached, it is urgent to get a reclassification to red tag (currently green label) and immediately prevent its free commercialization and application in and near populated areas and schools.

4. Prohibition of all “highly hazardous pesticides,” according to WHO and FAO, many are already banned in their countries of origin but are marketed in ours.

5. Ban on any spraying around 1 000 meters from villages and schools, the presence and movement of machines to spray (mosquitoes) in urban areas and the existence of deposits of pesticides within towns and neighbourhoods of cities.

6. Generating public policies that discourage the use of poisons in farming and food production, recognizing the toxic nature thereof. It is necessary to question the current model of agroindustrial and transgenic production, and instead look for systems that allow for social and cultural integration and defence and reproduction of ecological conditions of our environment. It is possible through state action to decrease the levels pesticide use in our country as demonstrated by experiences in other countries, to promote agro-ecology, local food consumption and defence of food security.

Government officials over the years have continued trying to hide the “side effects” of the agricultural production model, demonstrating its complicity and alignment with the interests of ethically questionable multinational companies. This situation led us to require the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organisation of American States in the request for an injunction to protect the right to health and life of the population environmentally exposed to pesticides, especially their children.

This is not only an Argentine problem, identical situations exist in other countries with similar results in Brazil, Uruguay, Central America, Paraguay, etc. Everywhere there is growing resistance to toxic agriculture and honest doctors and scientists support these struggles with their diagnoses and providing technical studies.

Struggles that seek to prioritize values such as health and the environment over economic and commercial interests of large biotech companies and sowing pools [a type of speculative investment fund for large-scale production of cereals in Argentina] in defence of human rights violated by heavily extractive productivist policies that destroy the environment into a collective health crisis.

Dr. Medardo Avila-Vazquez , Lic. Miryam Gorban; Presidents of National Congress Of Physicians of Crop -Sprayed Towns; Prof. Sergio Provenzano, Dean of Faculty of Medicine UBA

Translated by Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji

Article first published 02/12/15

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There are 4 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

Helene Wilkie Comment left 3rd December 2015 19:07:38
I would hope that those readers who may have been unsympathetic toward Hugo Chavez, for one reason or another, could now appreciate why he was totally against the importation and use of GMOs and their necessary chemicals. He was not to be fooled. Hats off to him.

dhinds Comment left 3rd December 2015 19:07:25
If Monsanto et. al is allowed to achieve their goals, the quality of life on this planet will plummet to unendurable levels and the legacy of homo sapiens will be the destruction of the biosphere and it's life support systems. Their goals can be achieved only if they are able to continue subverting governments and successfully manipulating public policy creation. This means that the current crop of corrupt politicians mas be defeated and environmentally and socially responsible legislators must take their place. This is what each and everyone of us must do in order to change the course of history, preserve the Earth for beneficial organisms and assure that life is worth living.

Rory Short Comment left 3rd December 2015 22:10:57
When a society lets profits have priority over everything else then that society inevitably self-destructs.

David Collier Comment left 7th December 2015 09:09:42
Only when the hip pocket nerve or more significantly the death of one's own children nerve of the rich are stimulated will things change for the better. This implies widespread environmental disaster(s). In this context the rich are of course more insulated than others; the poor most vulnerable. Karma applies: but how many are really aware of this? Answer: only those who have become awake, a small minority it seems.