Glyphosate, the poison of the fields

Glyphosate, the poison of the fields

By Darío Aranda

The basic agrotoxic of the soybean industry produces neuronal, intestinal and cardiac malformations, even in doses much lower than those used in agriculture. The investigation recalls that the use of soybean pesticides was due to a political decision that was not based on a scientific-sanitary study, denounces the complacent role of the scientific world and makes an urgent call to carry out "responsible studies that result in greater collateral damage from glyphosate" .

A CONICET investigation confirmed the detrimental effect of glyphosate

Glyphosate, the poison of the fields

Indigenous communities and peasant movements have been denouncing the health effects of soybean pesticides for a decade. But they always collided with the denials of three important actors, producers (represented in large part by the Liaison Table), the large companies in the sector and the government spheres that promote the agricultural model. The recurring argument is the absence of “serious studies” that demonstrate the negative effects of the herbicide. After thirteen years of soybean fever, for the first time a scientific laboratory investigation confirms that glyphosate (a fundamental chemical of the soybean industry) is highly toxic and causes devastating effects on embryos. This was determined by the Molecular Embryology Laboratory of the Conicet-UBA (Faculty of Medicine) that, with doses up to 1500 times lower than those used in soybean fumigations, verified intestinal and cardiac disorders, malformations and neuronal alterations. "Tiny concentrations of glyphosate, compared to those used in agriculture, are capable of producing negative effects on the morphology of the embryo, suggesting the possibility that normal mechanisms of embryonic development are being interfered with," emphasizes the work, which also emphasizes the Urgent need to limit the use of pesticides and investigate its consequences in the long term. The most widely used herbicide based on glyphosate is marketed under the name Roundup, from the Monsanto company, a world leader in agribusiness.

The Molecular Embryology Laboratory has twenty years of work in academic research. It works within the scope of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and of the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (Conicet). It is a benchmark space in scientific study, made up of graduates in biochemistry, genetics and biology. During the last fifteen months he studied the effect of glyphosate in amphibian embryos, from fertilization until the organism acquires the morphological characteristics of the species.

“Amphibian embryos were used, a traditional study model, ideal for determining concentrations that can alter physiological mechanisms that cause cellular damage and / or disorders during development. And due to the conservation of the mechanisms that regulate the embryonic development of vertebrates, the results are totally comparable with what would happen with the development of the human embryo ”, explains Andrés Carrasco, professor of embryology, principal investigator at Conicet and director of the Laboratory of Embryology.

The team of researchers says that the dilutions recommended for fumigation by the agrochemical industry range between one and two percent of the commercial solution (each one liter of water, 10/20 milliliters is recommended). But in the field it is known –even recognized by the sector's media– that the weeds to be eliminated have become resistant to the agrochemical, for which reason soybean producers use higher concentrations. The study states that in everyday practice dilutions vary between ten and thirty percent (100/300 milliliters per liter of water).

Using as parameters of comparison the theoretical ranges (those recommended by the companies) and the real ones (those used by soybean farmers), the laboratory results are equally alarming. “The embryos were incubated by immersion in dilutions with a milliliter of herbicide in 5000 of embryo culture solution, which represent amounts of glyphosate between 50 and 1540 times lower than those used in soybean fields. There was a decrease in embryonic size, serious cephalic alterations with reduction of eyes and ears, alterations in early neuronal differentiation with loss of primary neuronal cells ”, states the work, which was divided into two types of experimentation: immersion in saline solution and by injection of glyphosate into embryonic cells. In both cases, and in variable concentrations, the results were resounding.

“Decreased length of the embryo, alterations that suggest defects in the formation of the embryonic axis. Alteration of the size of the head with compromise in the formation of the brain and reduction of eyes and the area of ​​the auditory system, which could indicate causes of malformations and deficiencies in the adult stage ”, warns the investigation, which also advances on serious neurological effects : "(They were verified) Alterations in the mechanisms of early neuron formation, due to a decrease in primary neurons compromising the correct development of the brain, compatible with alterations with the normal closure of the neural tube or other deficiencies of the nervous system".

When the embryos were injected with highly dilute glyphosate doses (up to 300,000 times lower than those used in fumigations), the results were equally devastating. “Intestinal malformations and cardiac malformations. Alterations in the formation and / or specification of the neural crest. Alterations in the formation of cartilage and bones of the skull and face, compatible with an increase in programmed cell death. " These results imply, translated, that glyphosate affects a set of cells whose function is the formation of cartilage and then bones of the face.

“Any alteration of shape due to cell division failure or programmed cell death leads to serious facial malformations. In the case of embryos, we verified the existence of fewer cells in the embryonic facial cartilages ", Carrasco details, who also highlights the existence of" intestinal malformations, mainly in the digestive system, showing alterations in its rotation and size " .

The soybeans planted in the country occupy 17 million hectares in ten provinces and is marketed by the Monsanto company, which sells the seeds and the agrochemical Roundup (based on glyphosate), which has the property of remaining in the environment for long periods and traveling long distances blown away by wind and water. It is applied in liquid form on the plant, which absorbs the poison and dies in a few days. The only thing that grows on the sprayed soil is genetically modified, laboratory-modified soybeans. The company's advertising classifies glyphosate as harmless to humans.

Like all herbicides, it is made up of an "active" ingredient (in this case glyphosate) and other substances (called adjuvants or surfactants, which are not specified in detail due to trade secrets), whose function is to improve its handling and increase the destructive power of the active ingredient. "POEA (a substance derived from acids synthesized from animal fats) is one of the most common and most toxic additives, it degrades slowly and accumulates in cells," accuses the research, which describes POEA as a detergent that facilitates penetration of glyphosate in plant cells and improves their efficiency. Researchers from various countries have focused their studies on adjuvants (see separate) and confirmed their consequences.

In the experimental study of the Conicet-UBA (according to its authors, the first to investigate the effects of herbicide and pure glyphosate on the embryonic development of vertebrates), it focuses on the least studied and reported element of Roundup. “Pure glyphosate introduced by injection into embryos at doses equivalent to those used in the field between 10,000 and 300,000 times lower, has a specific activity to damage cells. It is responsible for anomalies during the development of the embryo and allows to maintain that not only the additives are toxic and, on the other hand, it allows to affirm that glyphosate is the cause of malformations by interfering in normal mechanisms of embryo development, interfering with normal biological processes. "

Carrasco rescues the dozens of complaints –and acute clinical pictures– of peasants, indigenous people and fumigated neighborhoods. "The anomalies shown by our research suggest the need to assume a direct causal relationship with the enormous variety of known clinical observations, both oncological and malformations reported in popular or medical casuistry", warns the professor of embryology.

The investigation recalls that the use of soybean pesticides was due to a political decision that was not based on a scientific-sanitary study ("it is inevitable to admit the imperative need to have studied these, or other, effects before allowing their use"). the complacent role of the scientific world ("science is urged by the great economic interests, and not by the truth and the well-being of the people") and makes an urgent call to carry out "responsible studies that result in greater collateral damage from glyphosate."

About cancer and malformations

The other studies

The promoters of the current agricultural model deny the toxicity of pesticides. Despite the serious clinical symptoms of peasant and indigenous families - or even neighborhoods affected by fumigations - soybean companies and producers demand scientific studies to begin to believe in the harmful effects of herbicides. From the academic world they recognize that it is not easy to investigate the subject. The pressure exerted by companies to silence criticism, the permeability of researchers not to question, and the role of state agencies that work together with companies in the sector are intermingled. But there are exceptions:

- Lethal in cells: Gilles-Eric Seralini is a researcher, professor of molecular biology at the University of Caen (France) and it became a headache for Monsanto. In 2005 he discovered that cells of the human placenta are very sensitive to Roundup, even in doses lower than those used in agriculture. He was harshly questioned by companies in the sector and accused of "green", understood as ecological fundamentalism. Last December he returned to the charge. The scientific journal Chemical Research in Toxicology published its new study, in which it found that Roundup is lethal to human cells. According to the work, doses well below those used in soybean fields cause cell death in a few hours.

- Risk factor: Robert Belle is the director of the Biological Station of the National Center for Social Research in Roscoff (France). In 2002 he tested Roundup on sea urchin cells (a classic scientific model for the study of cell division). The experiment proved that the pesticide impairs cell cycle checkpoints. In the documentary The World According to Monsanto, the scientist explains that, due to the action of Roundup, the stage of cell division is altered, returning it to a degree of instability that is typical of the early stages of cancer. "We have shown that it is a defined risk factor, but we have not evaluated the number of potentially induced cancers, nor the time frame within which they would be declared," explained Belle in December 2004 in the journal Science Toxicology.

- Causal relationships: Malformations, cancer and reproductive problems are directly linked to the use and exposure to environmental pollutants, including pesticides used in agribusiness. "The findings were overwhelming in terms of the effects of pesticides and solvents," said Alejandro Oliva, doctor and coordinator of an investigation that covered six towns in the Pampa Húmeda and that confirmed, in those locations, the existence of different types of cancer - prostate, testicle, ovary, liver, pancreas, lung and breasts - well above the national average. The study also detailed that four out of ten men who consulted for infertility had been exposed to agricultural chemicals and warned that the health effect of pesticides may manifest itself in future generations.

- Lethal: The University of Pittsburg (United States) found that Roundup is highly toxic in amphibians. Research The impact of insecticides and herbicides on the biodiversity and productivity of aquatic communities, coordinated by biology professor Rick Relyea in 2005, revealed that the pesticide killed 70 percent of the amphibian biodiversity of an experimental ecosystem. "It is highly lethal," the investigation stated.

The growth of pesticides

Poisons on the rise

The Pesticide Action Network of Latin America (Rapal) - a forum of organizations at the regional level - subscribes to the complaints that fall on glyphosate, but warns that the problem of pesticides is much broader, linked to the almost 500 formulations of pesticides used in the country. “Insecticides like the dangerous Endosulfan, Carbofuran, methyl bromide. Herbicides like 2, 4 D and Paraquat. All pesticides that have a specific toxicity and a higher toxicological classification than glyphosate. All of them are extremely toxic with the capacity to produce both acute (short-term) and chronic health damage (diseases that appear after years of contact with the pesticide) ”, explains Rapal's benchmark in Argentina and agronomist, Javier Souza Casadinho.

Rapal warns about the geometric growth of pesticides in Argentina. According to the organization, in 1996 30 million liters of pesticides were used in the country. In 2007 270 million liters were applied. The reasons: the expansion of the agricultural frontier (at the cost of deforestation or replacement of other activities) and the appearance of increasingly resistant insects and weeds. What happened with glyphosate is a witness case. “From a single application of three liters per hectare, carried out at the end of the 1990s, currently more than three applications are made, for more than twelve liters per hectare and per year”, denounces Souza Casadinho, who also He is a professor at the Faculty of Agronomy of the UBA.

Rapal maintains that Argentine legislation regarding the registration, commercialization and application of pesticides is "incomplete, permissive and obsolete." It points to the few restrictions in commercialization (pesticides are sold in hardware stores, fodder stores, seed shops, cleaning supplies and even hypermarkets) and points out as dangerous moments (in addition to application) storage, preparation ( dilution) and container disposal. “It is necessary to write effective laws, adapted to reality. Sensitivity, attention and courage are required to prohibit the most toxic products, restrict the use of those that have the least impact and control all stages, from manufacturing through marketing, use to disposal of these toxic containers, "he says. the investigator.

- The promoters of the current agricultural model assure that the use of agrochemicals implies greater production. They tend to argue that without pesticides and herbicides, there will be more hunger in the world - observed Page / 12.

–With the enormous amount of pesticides used in the world, the problem of hunger today is a tangible and verifiable reality. The problem of hunger has political roots and is not solved just by applying technology. A witness case is Argentina, with its 270 million pesticides used year after year and its agricultural production close to 90 million tons, it has about 30 percent of its population below the poverty line. This is because food for animals and machines - agrofuels - is produced and food for human beings is not produced.

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