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PARAGUAY
No pesticide laws
Gustavo Torres
11/29/2007
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Rural communities lack protection against toxic fumigations.

The impact of agrochemicals on human health has surfaced once again in Paraguay with the death of three-year-old Jesús Giménez.

On Oct. 17, Roberto Giménez reported his son’s death to the Public Ministry, and said it was a direct result of the fumigations of the canola plantations near his home in the southern part of the Alto Parana department, bordering Brazil.

The child died on Aug. 13 reportedly due to causes related to the application of agrochemicals in the area.

Even though soy is the principal product for exportation in the country, the canola plantations are prospering in the outskirts the Leopoldo Perrier community.

Paraguayans rent the lands to Brazilian settlers who farm this oil product, which is used to make biofuel.

“In school, the little ones faint from the smell, women suffer miscarriages, and fish, pigs and other animals are dying,” Giménez confirmed.

The serious social and environmental problems generated by the massive use of agrochemicals in zones very near communities and campesino settlements are public knowledge. The chemicals affect the communities’ health and even put their lives at risk.

On Sept. 6, Parliament voted down the so-called Pesticide, Agrotoxin and Fertilizer Bill, which would have applied at least a minimum legislative framework to the use of agrochemicals. The measure has given carte blanche to the big transnational companies who make these products.

“By rejecting this bill, they are preserving the immunity of the agribusiness which keeps devastating the land and affecting the population’s health,” environmentalist Víctor Benítez said. “In Paraguay, we need a pesticide law.
All that we have is a phytosanitary law approved in 1992, but it only deals with plants — plague and disease control — without keeping in mind human health or environment; so it’s an incomplete law.”

Consequences of soy boom
The height of the soy planting season began in late October, and children and adults are already suffering its consequences.

“The big soy farmers apply up to eight different products in each season. To begin the cultivation they use a two-liter dose of herbicides, which leads us to estimate that more than 4 million liters of glyphosate (1 million gallons) are applied at the beginning of cultivation alone,” he adds.

Glyphosate — or Roundup Ready — is an herbicide developed by the multinational Monsanto. Research conducted by the Department of Biochemical Sciences at the national University of Rosario, in Argentina, determined that glyphosate is responsible for various sicknesses and must not be applied less than 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) from any site where human activities take place.

According to Paraguayan doctor and researcher Joel Filártiga, glyphosate is carcinogenic and produces — in both animals and humans — skin and ocular irritation, nauseas, pulmonary edema, decreased blood pressure, various allergic reactions, abdominal pain, massive loss of gastrointestinal liquids, kidney damage, arrhythmias, destruction of red blood cells and loss of consciousness.

For campesino and environmental organizations, the approval of the pesticide law would have been a decisive issue for a country that cultivates more than 2.5 million hectares (nearly 6.2 million acres) of transgenic soy and is the fourth exporter of this product worldwide, behind the United States, Brazil and Argentina.

Large quantities of toxins
More than 20 million liters (5.2 million gallons) of agrochemicals are poured onto Paraguayan land each year, causing diseases, blindness, child deformation, as well as the death of children, campesinos, indigenous persons, and the destruction of flora and fauna.

“The rejection of the Pesticide, Agrotoxin and Fertilizer Law is one more battle within this huge fight against soy companies.

The campesino organizations initiated this process four years ago, shortly after the death of child Silvino Talavera in 2003 due to agrotoxin fumigations,” says Ulises Lovera, of the nongovernmental organization Alter Vida.

“Our organization has fought for an alternative to the use of pesticides and reported cases of intoxication for 22 years.

Since 2005 we have accompanied the initiative of Permanent Popular Plenary (Plenaria Popular Permanente), which includes ampesino organizations with technical help from the Center of Research and Study for Rural Law and Agrarian Reform, part of the Catholic University Our Lady of Asunción (UCA),” he adds.

A recent study conducted by the Coordinating Office of Pesticide Vigilance and Control, of the Health Ministry, affirmed that the use of these products can cause death or serious and chronic impacts on the human body. They say that from 50 severe intoxication cases registered in 2004, the number has jumped to 450 currently.

Businesswoman Claudia Ruser, member of the Soy, Cereal, and Oil Product Producers Association, a business group, recently affirmed to the press that the campesino organizations of the Alto Parana — the primary soy producing region in the country — “are on the point of war against soy companies.”

The response of the Association of Alto Paraná Farmers and its leader, Tomás Zayas, was a hasty call to campesinos to mobilize against the Brazilian soy companies “who do not respect the protection strips nor the health of the inhabitants.”

“The war that [Ruser] mentions was actually initiated by them quite awhile ago, but it’s a chemical war against our people and we have the right to defend ourselves,” warns Zayas.


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