Preliminary results show severe damage to the human genome in sprayed populations in GM soy-producing areas
The good work of the late Prof Andres Carrasco continues in Argentina, as the interview below with his colleague, the biochemist Raúl Horacio Lucero, shows. Dr Lucero's new research has revealed severe damage to the genome of people exposed to agrochemical spraying in Chaco province.
Prof Carrasco fearlessly supported the people in their struggle against the GM soy model of industrial agriculture, which has led to skyrocketing cases of cancer and birth defects. He often voiced frustration at the lack of government commitment to investigate the problems in proper epidemiological studies.
But as Dr Lucero explains in the interview, recently the Ministry of Health of Córdoba released a comprehensive report on cancer in Córdoba province, with numbers confirming researchers' worst suspicions. The finding that caused most alarm is that the highest rate of cancer deaths occur in the "pampa gringa" area, where more GMOs and chemicals are used. Here, the cancer death rate is double the national average. Dr Lucero says, "This was official confirmation of what we have denounced for years. Cancer cases multiply like never before in areas with massive use of pesticides."
Last June, the Faculty of Medicine at the National University of Rosario (UNR) unanimously approved the establishment of June 16 as The Day of Dignified Science in honour of Prof Carrasco, as Lucero says, "based on his commitment and consistency in defence of an undeniable truth".
The researcher Horacio Lucero confirms scientific evidence on the harmful effects of agrochemicals
diarionorte.com (Argentina), 1 Sept 2014
[English translation by Google/GMWatch
* Preliminary results of a study show severe damage to the human genome
More than two decades ago the biochemist Raúl Horacio Lucero investigated the origin of major malformations in people living in farming areas in the Chaco. The researcher at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Institute of Regional Medicine Northeastern University, spoke with Juan Monzon Gramajo of the University's Revista Digital [Digital Magazine]. "I never had any doubt that the defects were caused by exposure to agrochemicals," said the scientist.
According to the report published in [Digital Magazine], behind the explosion of soybean production in Argentina are gradually growing testimony and studies that show the harmful effects of pesticides used in soy production on the health of rural residents.
Something changed in the national scientific community when the study of CONICET researcher Dr Andres Carrasco (recently deceased) warned that the main herbicide used on soy, glyphosate, can cause malformations in amphibian embryos that are similar to those reported in humans conceived in the sprayed areas.
Carrasco, together with a large group of scientists, for many years toured different universities, presenting their work on the health situation of rural populations where GM crops are grown. A regular participant of these meetings was Lucero. Considered an expert in studies on the effects of chemicals to health, the biochemist uncovered cases of patients with serious orthopedic and genital malformations that had not been documented, taken from the Pediatric Hospital of Chaco's Genetic Studies Laboratory.
The frequency with which rural patients began to see anomalies as phocomelia [defects of the arms], syndactyly, shortened limbs, arm bones aplasia, imperforate anus, and clitoris hypertrophy, among others, led him to make a record of these consultations.
"I never had any doubt that the defects were caused by exposure to agrochemicals during pregnancy at an early gestational age. Anyway, I could not publish these comments because they required substantiation from large scale epidemiological studies, as well as measurements of pesticides or their metabolites in blood and urine, and measurements of the level of DNA damage in these patients through genotoxicity studies, "said Lucero.
From intensive agricultural areas
The period in which contacts these cases is from the year 1993 [when soybean expansion began, but before the arrival of GM soy], at a time when his work was not yet developed at the National University of the Northeast, so he did not have the means to investigate the causes of these diseases.
'All 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 field, they were exposed to agrochemicals sprayed from planes flying overhead,' he said.
Although he could not substantiate the causes, Dr Lucero presented his case to the Health Commission of the Chaco Chamber of Deputies in 2000. "I informed the legislators and explained that I had no doubt that the cases were due to pesticides. I couldn't prove it because that required a series of studies, but I could make an accurate presumption about what is happening.
"At that time there was a body of scientific literature that talked about the causes of these malformations, so by going to the legislature I had intended to alert them and say 'This is happening in our area and we have to investigate further.'"
Severe genetic disorders
Q: What investigations has UNNE performed into the effect of agrochemicals?
A: Currently the Institute of Regional Medicine, UNNE, is conducting a research project, of which Andrés Carrasco was the director and I the co-director, in which two biomarkers of genetic damage called chromosome aberrations and micronuclei are studied in the blood of exposed populations in the interior of Chaco province. Preliminary results indicate that we already have severe damage to the genome in several of those analyzed, as compared with unexposed control population, coinciding with the above findings. You cannot discredit the scientists who had the merit to speak out when all were silent. All universities should strongly support these groups, given the magnitude of the problem.
Q: Are there medium-term solutions to this problem proposed by the scientific community?
A: In the first meeting of the Sprayed People, organic agriculture was proposed. Many experts say that is not sustainable. But it is a position that must be discussed thoroughly, because we agree that soy does not provide food to the Argentine people. They export them to feed to animals in China and Europe. There is something called the food sovereignty of the people, which the Argentines are losing. We are not producing the food that the country needs.
In the short term, in my opinion, it's necessary to respect the laws that protect people from direct exposure, creating "buffer zone" areas free of pesticides, severely restricting applications, and monitoring compliance with the laws. But in the medium and long term we should rethink the current monoculture techniques that are strongly dependent on environmentally and socially unsustainable chemical inputs.
While it is a difficult task, it is possible to achieve the necessary increase in food production to meet future needs. The key for the future is that currently great efforts to protect, conserve and enhance natural resources are made to support the necessary increase in food production. The main technical challenge is to create and introduce integrated agricultural technologies that increase productivity, also in aquaculture, and that are truly sustainable in the sense that they do not damage the resources of soil, water and environmental and atmospheric conditions on which future food production depends. Edgar Morin said the prescription to identify the technical remedy for every isolated environmental problem is [limited to that system?] because it masks the general problem, which is "the organization of society, the industrial evolution, the relationship between society and nature."
Q: In the beginning, the work of Dr Andres Carrasco on the effects of exposure to agrochemicals was challenged by the scientific community. How much has changed since then?
A: With the work of Carrasco two things happened: first, he brought bad news, and bad news in science is almost always problematic. Why? Because behind this there is a million dollar turnover must not be questioned. In Argentina there are 25 million hectares of GM crops, on which 300 million liters of pesticides are applied. Carrasco, in his study, said "Be careful about what is being implemented because it is not as safe or benign as is claimed," he said.
Second, Carrasco publicly announced the results of his research before publishing in a scientific journal. This served as an excuse to many people to refute it and say that the findings were unscientific, because they were not published. Being a former president of CONICET, he knew very well the steps you need to follow for a publication to be validated. He said that society should know before the publication of his results because this was a public health problem. Then, in 2010, he published in Chemical Research in Toxicology and yet they continued to discredit it. Last June, the Faculty of Medicine at the National University of Rosario (UNR) unanimously approved the establishment of June 16 as The Day of Dignified Science in honour of the scientist Andrés Carrasco, who died May 10, 2014, based on his commitment and consistency in defence of an undeniable truth.
Q: What studies or lines of investigation reaffirm and maintain that the mismanagement of chemicals is the major cause of cancer and other diseases? Is the effect of these products still questioned today?
A: The work of Carrasco was like a banner behind which many people gathered to declare, "We have evidence of what we're seeing." But at the meeting in Córdoba on August 2010 a first group of researchers warned that something was going very wrong. Several work groups from different universities presented their work. The work of the group led by Dr Fernando Manas of the National University of Rio Cuarto, where they were working with the exposed population to study genotoxicity in the blood, showed that this blood had a level of DNA damage much greater the unexposed control group. Also presenting their work was the group of Dr Fernanda Simoniello, Universidad Nacional del Litoral, working with horticultural producers in the province of Santa Fe, which measured DNA damage biomarkers and reached the same conclusion. Currently, Dr Simoniello is studying the increase in autoimmune diseases in relation to the exposure to pesticides.
Gladys Trombotto, a geneticist at the University Hospital of Cordoba, conducted studies based on data collected from 1973 through 2003. She showed that in the first two decades, cases of major congenital malformations were recorded as statistically even. But from the last decade, they grew dramatically. There is an exponential growth that coincides with the growth of planted areas in Córdoba and repeated across the pampas. Those who wish to cast doubt on the findings, for example, of Dr Carrasco, are now encountering other work that corroborates his findings.
Recently the Ministry of Health of Córdoba released a comprehensive report on cancer in the province, with numbers confirming the worst suspicions. The report systematized five years of information, and among other parameters, determined the cases geographically. The single feature that caused most alarm is this: the highest rate of deaths occur in the "pampa gringa" area, where more GMOs and chemicals are used. And where the death rate is double the national average. This was official confirmation of what we have denounced for years. Cancer cases multiply like never before in areas with massive use of pesticides.
The official investigation in book form titled "Report on cancer in Córdoba 2004-2009" is prepared by the Provincial Tumor Registry and the Department of Statistics and Census. It was introduced into the Legislature by the Minister of Health of that province.
Researchers from Rio Cuarto spent eight years studying the people of Córdoba and confirmed, in fifteen scientific publications, that those exposed to pesticides suffer genetic damage and are more prone to cancer. Fernando Manas, a researcher at the University, recalled that in Marcos Juárez, glyphosate (and its major degradation product, AMPA) is found in lakes, soils and even in rainwater.
The investigation by the government of Córdoba ordered the cancer map according to groups of levels of deaths. The "pampa gringa" (all of this province) is located in the first segment. The second layer corresponds to the departments of Río Cuarto, General San Martin, Celman, Tercero Arriba and General Roca. The deaths range from 180-201 per 100 thousand inhabitants, rates exceeding the provincial and national average. This second layer also has the distinction of engaging in industrial agriculture.