The agrochemicals that have powered a global commodities boom have been ruled safe if used properly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and many other regulators. But an Associated Press investigation in Argentina found that pesticides are used haphazardly and in ways unanticipated by regulatory science, and specifically banned by law. Doctors say people are getting sick. The findings include:
OVERUSE OF CHEMICALS:
The Monsanto Co. promised adopting genetically modified crops would enable faster, cheaper production with fewer chemicals. True at first, but the overall chemical burden has grown eightfold since 1990 in Argentina as farmers blend in more toxic chemicals to kill resistant weeds and squeeze in up to three harvests a year. An AP analysis shows Argentine farmers now use twice as much pesticide per acre as their U.S. counterparts.
OUT OF CONTROL:
Pesticides applied in windy conditions drift into buildings and contaminate drinking water; farmworkers mix poisons without supervision, in populated areas and with no protective gear; people store water in used pesticide containers that are resold rather than destroyed. A presidential commission was formed to study the health impacts of these violations, but it hasn't met in three years. Despite soaring complaints, Argentina's federal government has never cited a single agrochemical user since then for failing to follow national spraying regulations.
Cancer rates in provincial towns surrounded by soy farming are 2 to 4 times higher than the national average. Rates of birth defects in another province quadrupled since 1996, when Argentines adopted America's "no-till" farming method using genetically modified seeds and companion pesticides. A study of children in one neighborhood surrounded by industrial agriculture found 80 percent carry pesticides in their blood.