GMWatch is releasing a series of four interviews with Argentine people whose lives have been seriously affected by the spraying of glyphosate and other agrochemicals on GM soy.
The third interview is with Dario Gianfelici, a rural physician who was one of the first medical doctors in Argentina to report the devastating health effects of agrochemical spraying on soy. He has written a book, La Soja, La Salud y La Gente (Soy, Health, and People), about the problem.
Cerrito, Entre Rios, Argentina. Rural doctor.
Interview by Dario Aranda
"After many years of suffering, it is clear that the spraying has made it difficult to live in rural areas. The impact that [genetically modified Roundup Ready] RR soybeans and the agrochemicals released into the environment have had on the health of the population is real and palpable. Over the course of two years, in a small town, 20 people have died of cancer, some were young. I'm just a general practitioner. I work with families. I take care of the whole family from pregnancy to the time they die. I became interested in the effects of agrochemicals in 1998 because in the area where I live and work, we began to see two pathologies: the death of the baby during delivery and early fetal death. Fetal death is a situation where pregnancy occurs, the placenta forms, but there is no baby. Today, we understand that the embryo died before it was visible. This condition has increased exponentially throughout the area. So, I began to investigate what had changed that would make this happen now and not in the past. Our town experienced drastic changes before and after soy. I've seen people die from cancer at age 30. I have witnessed pregnancy problems and a significant increase in fertility problems. I have seen an increase in respiratory diseases, as has never been seen before.
"We knew what was going on, we spoke up, but they didn't listen. We did not have the human or financial resources to perform complex studies that would support and confirm our allegations. Yes, we did have a significant increase of cases starting in 1996 at the Children's Hospital in the city of Parana. We also have data from the hospital in the town of Cerrito, where I have lived for the past 30 years. There, we had records of a significant increase of visits for conditions associated with acute poisoning by pesticides, such as respiratory diseases and dermatitis.
"For those lucky enough not to have gone through that experience, you have to explain that any exposure to agrochemicals has two reactions. One is the acute intoxication, which generally takes the form of a headache, vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory problems, skin problems or a rash. Such acute poisoning is usually very short-lived and easily treated. The real problem is chronic poisoning, where symptoms are seen after 10, 15 or 20 years of exposure. Perhaps the person developing these symptoms changed residence, occupation, or had a lot in their lives change over time. Because of this, no one makes the association between their exposure to agrochemicals, so many years ago, with their infertility, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer or thyroid cancer. That's the big trap because all of these GM soybean advocates tell you that you have to prove it with statistics. You cannot evaluate or make a study with an unborn baby. What is the minimum amount of exposure that would not harm the baby? Any exposure to the mother increases the risk of problems in the future. They can be immediate, such as a malformation, or they can be presented much later, such as infertility of the baby when he/she enters adulthood.
"Who is to blame for all this? I remember when I began to see the effects of this agricultural model. I would get very angry with the producers of these harmful chemicals. Today, I understand that they are not primarily responsible. They are workers or small businessmen trying to get the maximum benefit from their work. However, as true and honest as that is, it is also true that the use of agricultural chemicals cannot continue at current levels. Logging and deforestation cannot go as wild as it has been. Production must have a limit and if the implementation of those limits has to relinquish some profit, so be it. We should attempt to actually protect people's health and protect the environment. In addition, soy is like a mining operation. Natural resources are extracted in these case nutrients and it leaves the soil and the population poor and devastated. Without a doubt, corporations are to be blame for this, but the real responsibility falls on the government for not conducting serious studies and investigations and for opening the door to these companies. This represents a big tragedy in the history of our country.
"They used to call me crazy, a terrorist. But as other stories started to be heard from people in different towns and as scientific studies started to come to light, they have started to look at me with respect. They invite me to come to schools and give lectures and talks. I always say the same thing: GM soy has been a death sentence for humans and for the environment. No money can compensate for the damage that has been caused the contamination, the deaths, the cases of cancer and malformations. No compensation will be enough to alleviate the pain and suffering of these families."