An investigation in eight fumigated villages in Santa Fe, involving 27,000 people, confirmed the link between agrotoxins and cancer. Young people in these towns are 2.5 per cent more likely to get cancer than those living far from areas with pesticide use.

An investigation by the Faculty of Medical Sciences of the University of Rosario (UNR) confirmed that young people in villages sprayed with pesticides are 2.5 times more likely to suffer and die from cancer than people who live far away from agrochemicals. The data were obtained in an unprecedented investigation of its kind, which took seven years and is based on epidemiological studies of eight localities in Santa Fe (involving 27,000 people). “After three decades of this agro-industrial model, no one can deny that scientific evidence confirms that agribusiness damages health, generates illness and death,” said Damián Verzeñassi, from the Institute of Socio-environmental Health of the Faculty of Medical Sciences and one of the authors of the research.

The Mothers of Ituzaingó (Córdoba), the collective Paren de Fumigar (Santa Fe), the Coordinadora Basta es Basta (Entre Ríos), the Encuentro de Pueblos Fumigados (Buenos Aires) and the Red de Salud Popular Ramón Carrillo (Chaco). These are just a few of the organisations and spaces of articulation that for more than two decades have been denouncing the impact of the GM agricultural model on health. The scientific study “Incidence and mortality from cancer in Argentinean rural localities surrounded by agricultural land treated with pesticides”, published in the international journal Clinical Epidemiology and Global Health, confirmed what these organisations (and other scientists and activists) have been shouting for many years: there is a direct relationship between the GM model, agrochemical spraying and cancer.

The research was carried out by the Institute of Socio-environmental Health of the Faculty of Medical Sciences of the UNR. It consisted of epidemiological studies in the localities of Acebal, Arteaga, Chabás, Luis Palacios, San Genaro, Sastre, Timbúes and Villa Eloísa. All have the characteristic of being towns dedicated to agribusiness, with a predominance of genetically modified crops and the use of agrochemicals. “Living in fumigated towns increases the risk of suffering and dying from cancer,” warn researchers Damián Verzeñassi, Alejandro Vallini, Facundo Fernández, Lisandro Ferrazini, Marianela Lasagna, Anahí Sosa and Guillermo Hough.

And they specify: “The study shows that in the young population (between 15 and 44 years) the probability of dying from cancer is 2.48 (women) and 2.77 (men) times higher in these localities compared to the rest of the country”. And they warn that the percentage of cancer deaths (taking the international benchmark of 100 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants) in these eight localities was 30 percent, while nationally the figure is much lower (19.8 percent).

“It was shown that the incidence of cancer in the population of the eight localities was significantly higher compared to the general population. And, in particular, for the female population, it was determined that they have a 66 percent higher probability of suffering some type of cancer compared to the general female population of the country,” they remarked.

Damián Verzeñassi points to the causes of the statistics obtained: “The current agro-industrial model has only increased the damage to the health of the territories and, therefore, of the people who live in those territories. Our work is one more contribution to a large amount of clear scientific evidence that has been produced for many years now and which provides concrete proof of the consequences of pesticides”.

The research by the team from Rosario showed that, on average, 27 percent of the pesticides used in high-income countries (such as the United States) are in the “highly hazardous” category, while the percentage rises to 45 percent in low- and middle-income countries (such as Argentina). “In our country, the quantities per hectare are much higher than those used in Europe or the United States,” says the publication, which cites dozens of scientific studies that report the presence of pesticides in rivers, groundwater, urban soils, food, and even rainwater.

The research team also points to those responsible for this. “The main responsibility lies with the state, which enables this model. We are also talking about the officials, of different political persuasions, who support and defend this model in a quasi-fundamentalist way, without accepting a serious discussion,” says Verzeñassi. He also points to the complicit role of the judiciary and the national and provincial legislative powers. And he points to the large producers, many of whom are represented in the Mesa de Enlace: “They are participants in this process that is ecocidal and kills our populations.

“And of course, we must not forget the companies that produce and sell these toxic substances, they are among the most responsible. They know about the damage they cause and continue with their business without caring about the suffering of the populations”, he denounces. Among the companies that market glyphosate in Argentina are Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta, Red Surcos, Atanor, Asociación de Cooperativas Argentinas, Nufram, Agrofina, Nidera, DuPont, YPF and Dow.

In its conclusion, the research by the Socio-environmental Health Institute stresses the need to reduce the use of pesticides and, above all, calls for the application of the “precautionary principle”, in force in Argentine legislation, which implies taking protective measures when health and the environment are at risk. “After three decades of this model, of countless tests both in the territories and in laboratories, it is urgent to apply the precautionary principle to this form of production that threatens the lives of populations,” demands Verzeñassi.

In 2020, the organisation Naturaleza de Derechos published the 270-page report “Antología Toxicológica del Glifosato +1000”, compiled by Eduardo Martín Rossi. It detailed 1,100 scientific papers confirming the health and environmental effects of the herbicide glyphosate. It includes more than 200 research studies by Argentinean academics (from Conicet and public universities). In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, a specialised field of the World Health Organisation), linked glyphosate to cancer and confirmed that it produces genetic damage in humans.

In contrast, no independent research (where companies and scientists with conflicts of interest do not intervene) can prove the innocuousness of the agrotoxins used in the fields. In fact, in both Argentina and the United States, state agencies approve these chemicals on the basis of studies carried out by the same companies that sell them.

A unique and censored experience

The Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of Rosario had a unique experience: the “health camps”, a final year course in the final year of the degree (promoted by the Institute of Socio-environmental Health). All the students and teachers spent a week in a village (always in agreement with the local authorities) and, with a detailed survey, drew up a socio-sanitary profile of the place. They carried out 40 camps in the period 2010-2019 (including the eight in the scientific publication) and gathered clear evidence of the increase in diseases linked to the agricultural model. But the current authorities of the faculty (headed by Dean Jorge Molina) eliminated this unique experience of study and research.

Agrotoxins and their health impacts

Damián Verzeñassi, a doctor and researcher, explains that epidemiological studies cannot specify which agrochemical causes which disease in each patient, but he does point out that populations are exposed to cocktails of agrotoxins that have been individually proven to stimulate the development of endocrine problems and different types of cancer. He points out that glyphosate is teratogenic (produces malformations) and is associated with the development of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; atrazine is linked to breast cancer and thyroid alterations; chlorpyrifos is neurotoxic, deregulates the thyroid and increases the incidence of breast tumours. Glufosinate-ammonium (which is intended to be used in the new GM wheat) is endocrine disrupting and teratogenic, while 2-4D is teratogenic, increases the risk of miscarriage and is classified by IARC-WHO as possibly carcinogenic in humans and associated with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “There is also scientific work that has shown that if pesticides are combined, which is common practice, the capacity for harm is even greater than individually,” says Verzeñassi.