Environmental disaster in making in Argentina

Where Soy Is King: In Argentina, Local Health Costs Rise As Agro Booms

A soy field in San Pedro, Argentina (Irargerich)

By Christine Legrand
LE MONDE/Worldcrunch

SAN JORGE -- Located about 600 kilometers from Buenos Aires, San Jorge is a tidy town of about 25,000 in Santa Fe, one of Argentina's most agriculture-rich provinces. In the poor Urquiza neighborhood, a single dirt road separates the house of Viviana Peralta from an expanse of soy fields, where herbicides and pesticides are regularly sprayed down from small airplanes.

It took a while, but eventually the young Argentine mother connected the dots: the acute asthma attacks her baby daughter Ailen suffered were triggered each time a crop duster buzzed over her house. At a nearby hospital, a pediatrician later confirmed the presence of glyphosate in Ailen's blood.

Glyphosate is the principal active ingredient in Roundup, a herbicide developed and marketed by Monsanto, an American company. It has been widely used in Argentina since 1997. When it is sprayed on the country's soy fields, Roundup kills all of the weeds it comes in contact with, but spares the Roundup Ready (RR) soy beans, which have been genetically modified to be Roundup resistant.

In San Jorge, cancer rates have spiked 30% in the past 10 years. Residents say that following a crop dusting, their lips turn blue and their tongues swell. Chickens die. Dogs and cats shed their hair. Bees disappear and birds become scarce.

After she was ignored by municipal authorities, Peralta decided to turn to the courts. A judge agreed to hear the case that she, along with 23 other neighborhood families, presented against the Argentine government, provincial authorities and soy producers.

On March 17, 2009, the court issued a historic verdict, prohibiting airplanes from crop dusting within 1,500 meters of residences, and tractors from spraying within 800 meters of people's homes.

But this verdict, and other new regulations, are not always respected.
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