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Something has changed in the national scientific community, since the study of the CONICET researcher Dr. Andrés Carrasco (recently deceased), warned that glyphosate -the main component of soybean herbicides- can produce malformations in amphibian embryos that are similar to those of reported in pregnant humans in fumigated areas. Carrasco, along with an important group of scientists, traveled for many years to different universities in the country, exposing their work on the health reality of rural populations where there are transgenic crops. A regular participant in these meetings is the biochemist Raúl Horacio Lucero, Researcher at the Molecular Biology Laboratory of the Institute of Regional Medicine and professor of the Department of Medicine III, Infectology area of the Faculty of Medicine of the National University of the Northeast. Considered a benchmark in the affection of agrochemicals to health, Dr. Lucero exposes on the cases that he managed to document about patients who registered serious orthopedic and genital malformations, derived from the Pediatric Hospital of Chaco to its Genetic Studies Laboratory. The frequency with which he began to see abnormalities such as: Phocomelia, Syndactyly, limb shortening, arm bone aplasia, anal imperforation, hypertrophy of the clitoris, among others, led him to take a record of these consultations. - “I never had any doubt that the malformations were produced by the exposure to agrochemicals of pregnant women in early gestational age. In any case, I could not publish these observations because they required long-term epidemiological studies to support them; in addition to measurements of pesticides or their metabolites in blood and urine, as well as somehow measuring the level of DNA alteration in these patients through Genotoxicity studies ”, explained Lucero. The period in which he came into contact with these cases began in 1993, during which he still did not develop his work at the Universidad Nacional del Nordeste, which is why he did not have the means to establish the causes of these pathologies.
- “All the patients came from areas of high agricultural production and the mothers of these children had been exposed to pesticides in a very direct way. Working in the fields, the plane flew over them that sprayed the crops with agrochemicals ”he commented.
Although he could not substantiate the causes, Dr. Lucero appeared before the Health Commission of the Chaco Chamber of Deputies in 2000.
“I informed the legislators and explained that I had no doubts that the cases were due to pesticides. I cannot prove it because it requires a series of studies, but I can have a very close presumption of what is happening ”. "At that time there was already a bibliography that spoke about the causes of these malformations, so my presence in the legislature had the purpose of calling for attention and saying this is happening in our area" we must investigate more. "
-In a first moment the work of Doctor Andrés Carrasco on the effects of being exposed to Agrochemicals, was objected by the scientific community. How much has it changed from then until now? Two things happened with Carrasco's work: first, that he gave bad news, and giving bad news in science is almost always problematic. Why? because behind this there is a millionaire turnover that should not be questioned. In Argentina there are 25 million hectares with genetically modified crops in which 300 million liters of pesticides are applied. Carrasco with his study said “be careful with what is being applied because it is not as innocuous or benign as it is classified.
Second, Carrasco made the results of his research publicly known before publishing in a scientific journal. That served as an argument for many people to be able to refute and say that their finding is not scientific, because it is not published. Being a former president of Conicet, he knew very well the steps that a publication must follow to be validated, he said that society should first know its results as it is a collective health problem ... later, in 2010, he published it in Chemical Research in Toxicology and they continued to discredit him. Last June, the UNR Faculty of Medicine unanimously approved the project that establishes June 16 as Dignified Science Day in honor of the scientist Andrés Carrasco who died on May 10, 2014, based on his commitment and coherence in defense of a truth that cannot be hidden.
What studies or lines of research reaffirm and maintain that the mismanagement of agrochemicals is the great cause of cancer and other diseases? Is the effect of these products still in doubt today?
Carrasco's work was like a banner behind which many people sheltered themselves to say we have scientific evidence of what we are observing. But at the Cordoba meeting in August 2010, a precedent was set by researchers who warned that something was very wrong. Several works by groups from different Universities were presented. Works of the group headed by Dr. Fernando Mañas from the National University of Río Cuarto were exposed, where they were working with the exposed population who underwent genotoxicity studies in blood, and showed that they have a level of DNA damage much higher than the unexposed control group. The group led by Dr. Fernanda Simoniello from the Universidad Nacional del Litoral, who works with horticultural producers in the province of Santa Fé, also spoke about them, measuring Biomarkers of DNA damage and reaching the same conclusion. Currently, Dr. Simoniello is studying the increase in autoimmune diseases in relation to exposure to pesticides.
The geneticist Gladys Trombotto of the University Hospital of Córdoba, carried out studies based on data that she collected between the years 1973 and 2003. She showed that in the first two decades, the cases of major congenital malformations registered in that maternity were statistically even. But from the last decade they grew dramatically. There is an exponential growth that coincides with the growth of the planted areas in Córdoba and that is repeated throughout the humid pampas. What was intended to question, such as the study by Dr. Carrasco, now has studies that corroborate his conclusions.
In recent days the Ministry of Health of Córdoba released an extensive report on cancer in the province that confirms the worst suspicions with numbers. It systematized five years of information and, among other parameters, geographically determined the cases. The particularity that caused the greatest alarm is one: the highest death rate occurs in the so-called “pampa gringa”, an area where most GMOs and agrochemicals are used. And where the death rate is double the national average. What we have denounced for years was officially confirmed. Cancer cases are multiplying as never before in areas with massive use of pesticides. The official research in book format is entitled Report on Cancer in Córdoba 2004-2009, prepared by the Provincial Registry of Tumors and by the General Directorate of Statistics and Censuses. It was presented in the Legislature by the Minister of Health of that province.
Researchers from Río Cuarto have been studying towns in Córdoba for eight years and confirmed, with fifteen scientific publications, that people exposed to agrochemicals suffer from genetic damage and are more prone to cancer. Fernando Mañas, a researcher at that University, recalled that glyphosate (and its main degradation product, AMPA) was detected in Marcos Juárez in lagoons, soils and even in rainwater. The Córdoba government research orders the cancer map according to groups by level of deaths. The “pampa gringa” (the entire eastern province) is located in the first segment. The second stratum corresponds to the departments of Río Cuarto, General San Martín, Juárez Celman, Tercero Arriba and General Roca. Deaths range from 180 to 201 per 100,000 inhabitants, rates that exceed the provincial and national average. This second stratum also has the peculiarity of dedicating itself to industrial agriculture. Damián Verzeñassi is a doctor and professor of Socio-Environmental Health at the Faculty of Medical Sciences of Rosario. He is one of those responsible for the "Sanitary Camp", an educational instance that consists of dozens of students in the last year of the Medicine career settling in a town for a week and carrying out a sanitary mapping. “The Córdoba study coincides with the eighteen surveys we carried out in industrial agriculture locations. Cancer has exploded in the last fifteen years, ”said Verzeñassi. “They continue to demand studies on something that has already been proven and they do not take urgent measures to protect the population. There is ample evidence that the agricultural model has health consequences, we are talking about a production model that is a huge public health problem ”-What research is carried out at the UNNE regarding the effect of Agrochemicals?
Currently at the Institute of Regional Medicine of the UNNE a Research Project is being carried out, of which Andres Carrasco was the Director and has me as Co-director, in which two Biomarkers of genetic damage called "Aberrations chromosomes and micronuclei ”in blood from an exposed population in the interior of the Chaco province, and the preliminary results that we already have indicate severe damage to the genome in several of the people analyzed with respect to the unexposed control population, coinciding with the findings cited above.
Scientists who had the credit for speaking up when everyone was silent can no longer be disqualified. All Universities should strongly support these groups given the magnitude of the problem.
- Are there medium-term solutions that the scientific community can propose for this problem? In the first meeting of Fumigated Peoples, an organic agriculture was proposed. Many specialists point out that it is not sustainable. But it is a position that must be discussed in depth, because we agree that soy does not feed Argentines. We export it to feed animals in China and Europe. There is something called food sovereignty of the people, that we Argentines are losing. We are not producing food for what the country needs.
In the short term, in my opinion, the laws that protect the population from direct exposure should be respected by creating buffer zones free of pesticides, restricting the application and severely controlling compliance with these laws. But in the medium and long term the current monoculture techniques strongly dependent on chemical inputs that are not environmentally and socially sustainable should be rethought.
Although it is a difficult task, it is possible to achieve the necessary increase in food production to meet future needs. The bottom line for the future is that great efforts are made today to protect, conserve and enhance the natural resources needed to support the necessary increase in food production. The main technical challenge is to create and introduce sets of agricultural technologies that increase productivity, also in aquaculture, and that are truly sustainable in the sense that they do not damage soil, water and ecological resources or the atmospheric conditions on which it depends. future food production.
Edgar Morin said that the recipe for identifying the technical remedy for each isolated environmental problem is functional to the system because it masks the general problem, which is that of "the organization of society, of the industrial evolution, of the society-nature relationship."
Digital Magazine of the National University of the Northeast (UNNE)