Agricultural regions that see a heavy use of chemicals and in which genetically modified (GM) crops are grown have a cancer death rate twice as high as the national average, according to a report by the Ministry of Health of Cordoba Province in Argentina.
"Once again, what we have complained about for years was confirmed," said Medardo Avila Vazquez of the University Network for Environment and Health (Reduas), "and especially what doctors say about the sprayed towns and areas affected by industrial agriculture. Cancer cases are multiplying as never before in areas with massive use of pesticides."
Cancer has skyrocketed
The Provincial Tumour Registry and the Department of Statistics and Census analyzed data on cancer tumors and death rates between the years of 2004 and 2009. The report found that the highest rate of cancer deaths occurred in the area known as "pampa gringa," which also has the heaviest use of agrochemicals and GM crops.
The report was taken as vindication by Cordoba residents and public health advocates, who have been warning of climbing cancer rates in the province for years.
"The study of Cordoba matches the surveys we conducted in 18 industrial agriculture areas. Cancer has skyrocketed in the last 15 years," said doctor and researcher Damian Verzenassi of the Faculty of Medical Sciences in Rosario.
Experts demand government action
Yet, the government report itself actually deemphasized the finding of exceptionally high rates of cancer deaths in agricultural areas. Instead, the report focused on analyzing cancer incidences (new cases) by age, sex and location, and comparing incidence rates with those rates in other countries.
However, health advocates immediately drew the connection with agricultural chemicals and demanded government action to protect the public.
According to Fernando Manas of the National University of Rio Cuarto, "there is evidence of high levels of genetic damage in people of Marcos Juarez, which may result from unintentional exposure to pesticides."
Manas noted that, for example, lakes, soils and rainwater in the Marcos Juarez department have been found to be contaminated with the herbicide glyphosate ("Roundup") and one of its breakdown products, AMPA. Over the past eight years, researchers at Rio Cuarto have published 15 separate papers confirming that Cordoba residents who have been exposed to pesticides suffer from genetic damage and a higher risk of cancer.
Verzenassi condemned efforts by the government and industry to obscure the connection between agrochemicals and cancer.
"They keep demanding studies on something that is already proven and do not take urgent measures to protect the population," he said. "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."
Another researcher, Avila Vazquez of the University Network for Environment and Health, echoed this criticism and called for the immediate implementation of measures to prohibit aerial spraying, keep chemical applications at least one km from homes and ban agrochemical storage and spraying from urban areas.
"The tobacco companies denied the link between smoking and cancer, and took decades to recognize the truth," Vazquez said. "The biotech and agrochemical corporations are the same as the tobacco industry, they lie and favor business over the health of the population."
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