By Alfredo Acedo
According to various and accredited studies, chronic exposure even at low doses to pesticides causes serious damage to human health related to the appearance of cancers, chromosomal alterations, congenital malformations, disorders of the nervous system and disorders of the endocrine system, among others. . Once spread, pesticides contaminate rivers, water tables, coasts, air, soil, and food.
"Every year three million severe poisonings by agrochemicals occur in the world and as a result of them at least 300,000 people die. 99 percent of these deaths occur in subordinate countries."
The green and ocher checkered carpet of the Yaqui Valley hides with its beauty the tragedy of this region of northwestern Mexico, devastated by the intensive use of pesticides under the capitalist agriculture model that for more than half a century has polluted water, soil and air, and has fatally affected people's health.
The valley extends over an area of about 225,000 hectares of gravity-irrigated land in southern Sonora where wheat, corn, cotton, vegetables, and fodder are grown mainly. The region together with Baja California contributes 65 percent of Mexico's annual wheat production.
I was born and lived until puberty in a small farming town in the middle of the farmland, south of Ciudad Obregón. Several times I saw my father come home from work with symptoms of poisoning. He operated agricultural machinery, including tractors with implements to apply pesticides, defoliants, and fertilizers. He died of brain cancer when he was just 61 years old. The malignant glioma extinguished his life in less than six months before the helpless gaze of his loved ones.
The criminal irresponsibility of the agrotoxic manufacturers and vending companies is an open file. Given the absolute lack of information among agricultural workers, applicators and the general population, a Warning! it is not enough to alert about the kind of material they are receiving. After applications without any protection, the containers are left anywhere and the pilots wash the tanks of their planes throwing the waste even in populated areas. In these areas, when the children are barely tall enough to carry the spray tanks on their backs, or the strength necessary to hold a flag that indicates the way to the dusting plane, they also participate in agricultural tasks for a few pesos, being involved in both cases. for hours in a cloud of poisons. If they are not victims of immediate poisoning, the dire effects of accumulating exposures will come not long afterwards. Personally, since my childhood I have carried in my olfactory memory the smell of defoliants as a macabre nostalgia.
Poisons in breast milk
It is claimed that it is better for development during childhood to be breastfed. This indisputable medical truth is not so true for the boys and girls who have grown up in the Yaqui Valley. For more than two decades, the presence of organochlorine pesticides in the breast milk of residents of the Valley has been documented, as found, for example, in a study applied to nursing mothers from Pueblo Yaqui, Cajeme municipality police station, in 1990. The results showed that 85.71 percent of the analyzed samples showed the presence of 1 to 3 pesticides. The compounds detected were: aldrin, HCH, (lindane), technical-DDT and pp-DDE, with an average concentration of 0.11, 0.17, 0.27 and 1.90 parts per million (ppm), respectively. The investigation showed that the levels of lindane, technical-DDT and pp-DDE were found in concentrations above the limits established for milk by the FAO and the WHO.
Several subsequent studies have not only confirmed the dramatic finding, but 3 years ago it was possible to determine the passage through the placenta of pesticides from pregnant women to their neonates, in another study also carried out in residents of Pueblo Yaqui. Maternal blood, amniotic fluid, and umbilical cord samples from the women under study contained the pesticides alpha-HCH, gamma-HCH (lindane), HCB, dieldrin, endrin, and DDE. Lactating neonates from the same locality, at 3 months of age, had the same pesticides in their blood. After six months, these substances remained present, only that some were transformed into degradation products and the concentrations corresponding to lindane and dieldrin exceeded those detected in people with normal exposure.
To complete the picture, less than three years ago the values obtained for heavy metals in water samples from the communities of Bácum, Pueblo Yaqui and Quetchehueca exceeded what is allowed by the Official Mexican Standard. The presence of organochlorine pesticides such as malathion and methyl parathion in the drainage water of the last two agricultural communities was also confirmed.
According to various and accredited studies, chronic exposure even at low doses to pesticides causes serious damage to human health related to the appearance of cancers, chromosomal alterations, congenital malformations, disorders of the nervous system and disorders of the endocrine system, among others. . Until very recently and without much conviction, some governmental and educational institutions, pressured by public opinion, have dedicated themselves to research, inform and train in addition to creating special garbage cans for poisoned containers, under the protection of the idea of the safe use of pesticides. The problem is that this idea is unfounded: neither as a farm worker nor as a dweller in rural areas nor as a consumer of the products of industrial agriculture can you be safe from agricultural poisons. Once spread, pesticides contaminate rivers, water tables, coasts, air, soil, and food.
Human exposure occurs through inhalation, ingestion, and contact. Every year three million severe poisonings by agrochemicals occur in the world and as a result of them at least 300 thousand people die. 99 percent of these deaths occur in subordinate countries.
Nobel for the Green Revolution
All this environmental and human disaster contradictorily produced a Nobel Peace Prize, in the figure of Norman Ernest Borlaug, the American researcher with whose wheat genetic improvement techniques, developed in experimental fields financed by the Mexican government - in this case the Center Northwest Agricultural Research Department, in the heart of the Yaqui Valley, became the center of the Green Revolution. It was the new model of agricultural production promoted since the mid-20th century for the expansion of agribusiness from the intensive use of hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and extensive mechanization of the field.
When World War II ended, this was the route imposed by the military industrial complex to maintain its hefty profits. Explosives were turned into nitrogen fertilizers, deadly gases into pesticides, and war tanks into tractors. Since then, the use of pesticides has spread intensely in agriculture with the justification that the increase in yields would lead to an end to hunger. But its use also extended in industry, in homes and even in public health campaigns to combat diseases such as malaria.
Agribusiness generated mentality, expanded monoculture, favored land concentration, and consolidated the political power of large producers. It also increased the exploitation of labor, rural-city migration and rural unemployment. Simultaneously, it increased the capitalist profit of the large rural landowners and the transnational corporations of the chemical, metallurgical and biotechnological industries involved. From the beginning it had strong support from the governmental apparatus and scientific and technological institutions, as a norm imposed worldwide to subsidize multinational companies with public money.
Hand in hand with the myth of the Agrotitanes, supposed pioneers of the opening of the valley to irrigation and cultivation, the figure of Borlaug grew to be a kind of lay saint of the great Sonoran farmers, with streets, statues and tributes in his name . I asked Borlaug not many years before the end of his long existence if the Green Revolution could keep the promise of ending hunger. He admitted that the limit of increasing yields had been reached in this way and said that it was necessary to face the problem with political decisions. It was in the early 1990s.
Today it could not be clearer that the solutions to the food crisis are not technological but depend on a radical transformation in the patterns of food production, distribution and consumption. But Borlaug did not consider important the environmental damage of pesticides linked to the technological package of his revolution. As a result of the model, there are now about 20 large agrochemical manufacturing industries in the world, with a sales volume that exceeds 40 billion dollars per year and a production of 2.5 million tons of poison. The main companies taking over the market are Syngenta, Bayer, Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences and Du Pont.
Latin America is an important and growing market where the turnover in the sale of pesticides grew 18.6 percent between 2006 and 2007 and 36.2 percent between 2007 and 2008. An investigation on the main pesticides used in the Yaqui Valley, their quantity and their impact on health, in the period 1995-1999 found that the pesticides with the highest application were herbicides (34%), carbamates (27.53%), organophosphates (27.53%), fungicides, organochlorines and pyrethroids.
The total active ingredient thrown into the valley was 3 thousand 146 tons 616 kg. In 1998 it was the year that the most active ingredient was used in the order of 806 tons 123 kg. Medullary aplasia, acute leukemia, and non-Hodkin lymphoma were detected in the incidence of diseases. (Valenzuela Gómez, L. 2000. Professional Thesis. ITSON. Ciudad Obregón, Son.) An active agronomist who preferred to remain anonymous reported that the pesticide most used today is glyphosate produced by Monsanto and marketed here as Faena (Roundup, in others sites). According to a recent study, glyphosate formulations and metabolic products cause the death of human embryos, placentas, and umbilical cells in vitro even at low concentrations.
In the Valley, according to the anonymous source, parathion and malathion are still being applied. The first - extremely toxic - is definitely prohibited in several countries and by the Rotterdam Convention. Regarding the second, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration establishes a limit of 15 milligrams per cubic meter of air at work during 8-hour workdays, 40 hours a week, recommendations that are practically impossible to observe.
Agrotoxics can be defined as the inputs of industrial agriculture made from poisonous chemicals in the form of insecticides, defoliants, herbicides and fungicides. Due to their polluting action, this category includes chemical fertilizers that degrade soils and their components are incorporated into the food chain in estuaries and bays. And the transgenic seeds associated with the intensive use of carcinogenic pesticides such as glyphosate and plants that produce their own insecticide must take a place.
Based on this definition and with abundant information that measures the size of the enemy, a few days ago representations of all the countries that make up the Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations (CLOC), in a meeting at the FENSUAGRO peasant training school in Viotá , Colombia, analyzed this problem that is common to all its regions: Southern Cone, Andean, Central America, North (Mexico) and the Caribbean. It was decided to launch a continental campaign under the slogan: "The pesticides kill." An education, awareness and outrage campaign that seeks to sensitize society, end the myth of the safe use of pesticides and fight for their definitive eradication.
The campaign must attack the core of agribusiness ideology, impact public opinion, and reach out to communities and families. It should be a platform of unity between environmentalists, farmers, workers, students, consumers and all those who want a healthy food production respectful of the environment. It must be explained by all available means, the need and the potential of our countries to produce diversified and healthy food for all people, based on agroecology.
In the same way, denounce and hold responsible the companies that produce and sell pesticides, awakening in society the need to change the agri-food model that produces poisoned food, environmental degradation and huge profits for a few. To do this, it was proposed to hold one organization responsible per region (in the case of Mexico, the National Union of Autonomous Peasant Regional Organizations), integrating committees and subcommittees in the various subregions with the participation of all CLOC organizations, as well as the appointment of a continental coordination team that will have the collaboration of the communication area of the Operative Secretariat based in Quito.
The launch of the campaign was scheduled for December 3, the international day against the use of pesticides, with a pre-launch during the International Congress of Agroecology in Havana, in November. It is urgent to start breaking the perverse circle of agricultural production where the same transnational company, plus a similar or subsidiary company, produces the seed, the poison and even the false medicine. And among all of them they bring their poisons to our table.
Alfredo Acedo He is director of Social Communication and advisor to the National Union of Autonomous Regional Peasant Organizations. Mexico
Landscape photo: Aerial view of the Yaqui Valley - Arnoldo Celis
October 2011 La Via Campesina