Doctors and researchers say the widespread use of the toxic chemicals heavily promoted by the chemical and pharmaceutical industry to combat mosquitoes is not preventing the spread of Zika virus, but is putting at risk the health of the general population
Below is an interesting article by the Argentine journalist Dario Aranda, who has reported for years on the problems caused by the spraying of pesticides on GM soy and other crops.
The article explains how concerns about the spread of dengue and the Zika virus, and the microcephaly increase in Brazil, are being exploited by pesticide firms.
Microcephaly is a birth defect in which the baby is born with an abnormally small head.
Although evidence is now beginning to emerge that suggests that the Zika virus may have a role in some cases of microcephaly, Aranda reports the concerns of researchers that pesticides may also be a factor.
He also reveals the immense lobbying effort by pesticide companies, in collaboration with government officials, behind the organisation of vast spraying programmes to combat Zika-carrying mosquitoes, even though the mosquitoes are known to be resistant to many chemicals. The companies’ lobby group is even reportedly promising people that they can “save human lives and prevent malformations” by opening the doors and windows of their houses during the spraying, so that the pesticide can penetrate their homes.
The critical perspective presented in Aranda's article has all but been stamped out in the English-speaking media. There is a determined effort to convince the world that there can only be one cause of the microcephaly increase and that is the Zika virus. But this hypothesis still lacks the kind of evidence that could prove causality.
Between the notion that all the microcephaly cases are solely caused by Zika, and the opposing notion that Zika is not responsible, there are many plausible intervening hypotheses. These include the possibility that Zika is a co-factor, together with other agents such as pesticides, or that Zika is responsible for some, but not all, of the cases of microcephaly and that pesticides may be responsible for other cases. All possible hypotheses should be explored and firm conclusions should only be drawn on the basis of evidence of causality.
A climate of fear is being generated around the Zika virus that is not as yet justified by the state of the evidence. The resulting panic is being exploited by corporate interests that are indifferent to the risks of exposing people to the mass spraying of inadequately tested pesticides, many of which are endocrine disruptors, reproductive toxins, and/or linked to birth defects.
More GMWatch coverage of the Zika virus and microcephaly:
Argentine and Brazilian doctors name larvicide as potential cause of microcephaly
Brazilian government denies microcephaly/larvicide link
Zika, microcephaly, and pesticides: Half-truths, hysteria, and vested interests
What did Brazilian public health researchers really say about Zika, pesticides, and birth defects?
Pesticide spraying in the crosshairs
By Dario Aranda
Pagina12, 10 Mar 2016
English translation (with additional editing for clarity to non-Argentine audience) by GMWatch
* Doctors and researchers say the use of the toxic chemicals that the chemical and pharmaceutical industry promotes against mosquitoes does not prevent the spread of dengue virus and Zika, but affects the health of the population
With more than 16,000 cases of dengue in Argentina and the advancement of Zika virus in Latin America, pesticide companies are waging a campaign to promote spraying with numerous chemicals, which they claim controls mosquitoes. But doctors and researchers say that once again, the chemical and pharmaceutical industry is profiting from gambling with the health of the population. "The scientific literature and the practice of public health promotion support the view that toxic chemicals and transgenic biotechnology are far from being part of the solution and we could say that they are part of the problem," said Damian Verzeñassi, of the National University of Rosario.
The Argentine agrochemical industry association CASAFE issued a statement on mosquito-borne diseases on February 10 with the title, “Preventing dengue, Chikungunya and Zika is possible." It announced that a "major outbreak" would occur by March and warned that "it could be life threatening”. It proposed that people ”take preventive measures" and suggested suitable products: "There are several insecticides that allow us to curb the proliferation of mosquitoes and thus save human lives and prevent malformations.”
Among the members of CASAFE are Syngenta, Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow, Dupont, Nufarm and Rizobacter. Five days later, CASAFE re-issued the statement and on February 29, it insisted: "All over the country spray programmes are being developed – and to get the job done properly and effectively it is recommended to keep the doors and windows of your homes open so that the spray can enter.”
Javier Souza Casadinho, professor at the Faculty of Agronomy of the UBA and regional coordinator of the Action Network for Pesticides and their Alternatives in Latin America (RAPAL), explained that the insecticide permethrin (recommended by CASAFE) impacts "on the central nervous system and can cause convulsions, tremors, anxiety, allergies, and stomach ailments; it is also included in the list of pesticides related to male fertility problems, and the US EPA (US regulatory agency) warns of possible effects on the female reproductive system and on the incidence of breast cancer".
Souza Casadinho said the chemical fenitrothion (also recommended by agrotoxics companies) is prohibited in the European Union and its use is being ”strongly challenged by institutions in Argentina (including the Ombudsman) because it can cause endocrine disruption, affecting the growth and reproduction of human beings”.
Health Minister Jorge Lemus admitted on February 6 that "we are working hard on the spray programmes”, but acknowledged that the disease-transmitting mosquito Aedes aegypti "is already resistant to the chemicals”. However, far from abandoning the toxic route, the minister proposed "changes in the substances" sprayed.
Damian Verzeñassi, of the Department of Social and Environmental Health of the Faculty of Medical Sciences of Rosario, began with a question: “Don’t you notice that the same companies that 'discovered' the epidemic of influenza A H1N1 (later recognised to be false), thus benefiting the pharmaceutical industry, today appear with this 'new problem’, while flagging up as the only solution a return to chemicals such as DDT or similar, along with the infestation of our land with a transgenic mosquito that failed in Brazil (where it was released to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito)?"
He questioned that "the same companies that are responsible for the spraying denounced by communities and epidemiological studies as responsible for serious health damage (such as malformations, tumours, and spontaneous abortions, among others), are presented as the providers of the solution in the form of their toxic chemicals". He recalled that the researchers of the Brazilian Association of Collective Health (Abrasco) questioned the use of larvicides to combat mosquitoes and also made explicit the suspicion that the chemicals (and not the Zika virus) are involved in the increase in cases of microcephaly.
The World Health Organization promoted the alleged direct relationship between Zika and microcephaly. The agency reported on February 29 that Zika was detected in 49 countries, but microcephaly only in Brazil. Another element was added by the National Institute of Health of Colombia, which just reported 47,000 cases of Zika, of which 8,900 were pregnant and did not show any cases of microcephaly.
Rafael Lajmanovich is a researcher at the Argentine National Scientific and Technical Research Council CONICET, a doctor of natural sciences, and a professor of ecotoxicology at the Universidad Nacional del Litoral (UNL). He has 18 years’ experience of studying the impact of agrochemicals and has authored over eighty scientific publications. "All insecticides (pyrethroids, organophosphates and Bt) used against mosquitoes are toxic to wildlife and to a greater or lesser extent for humans," he said.
He also stressed that dengue and Zika are directly related to climate tropicalisation, global warming, and industrialized agriculture. "It is known that this vector (the mosquito) proliferates more in urbanized and poor areas. It is worth explaining the relationship between the Argentine agricultural production model, poverty, and insecurity in large cities. Undoubtedly we must put in place measures for short-term 'control' of the epidemic, but if we do not change the model, it is clear that no insecticide will save us," warned Lajmanovich.