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Product is safe, Monsanto insists

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    star-advertiser / jan. 2012 Seed corn is grown by five companies -- BASF, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred International and Syngenta -- on about 5,600 acres throughout the state. Shown here is a field on Oahu's Ewa Plain.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina » Monsanto Co. is calling for more controls on agrochemicals, including its Roundup line of glyphosate-based weedkillers, in response to an Associated Press report about concerns that illegal pesticide applications are harming human health in Argentina.

"If pesticides are being misused in Argentina, then it is in everyone’s best interests — the public, the government, farmers, industry, and Monsanto — that the misuse be stopped," the St. Louis-based company said after the report was published Monday.

The firm criticized the report as lacking in specifics about health impacts, though the story cited hospital birth records, court records, peer-reviewed studies, epidemiological surveys, pesticide industry and government data, and an audit of agrochemical use in 2008-11 prepared by Argentina’s bipartisan Auditor General’s Office.

Asked for Monsanto’s position on this, Monsanto spokes­man Thomas Hel­scher said in an email Tuesday that "the absence of reliable data makes it very difficult to establish trends in disease incidence and even more difficult to establish causal relationships. To our knowledge there are no established causal relationships."

(Monsanto and other large agricultural firms have recently been the target of protests against, and legislation controlling, the use of pesticides and GMO crops in Hawaii.)

Argentine doctors said their caseloads — not laboratory experiments — show an apparent correlation between the arrival of intensive industrial agriculture and rising rates of cancer and birth defects in rural communities, and they’re calling for broader, longer-term studies to rule out agrochemical exposure as a cause of these and other illnesses.

"The story is overbroad in indicting all ‘pesticides’ when we know that glyphosate is safe," Monsanto countered. "The U.S. EPA and other agencies not only say there is no evidence of carcinogenicity but go further to give it the highest rating, ‘E,’ which means there is affirmative evidence that glyphosate does not cause cancer in humans."

This claim of safety, however, is a problem, Monsanto’s critics say. While glyphosate is less toxic in terms of acute exposure than many other herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, it is routinely blended with other chemicals when applied to crops. The spray that drifts from fields and seeps into groundwater adds to an overall chemical burden, a mix of many individual ingredients.

Dr. Damian Verzenassi runs a continuing epidemiological study at the National University of Rosa­rio Medical School that has found a 90 percent increase in cancer rates since 1997.

"They said this new system of production would diminish agrochemical use in the country. They called the arrival of GMOs a second green revolution," he said Tuesday.

Given ample evidence of poor enforcement and growing complaints of human health impacts 17 years after Argentina accepted this farming system, Monsanto should do more, said Judy Hatcher, chairwoman of Pesticide Action Network International.

"Argentina was an early adopter of genetically engineered seed technology. As we’ve also learned in the United States, herbicide-resistant GE crops lead to dramatically increased pesticide use. And as weeds develop resistance to these chemicals, industry rolls out even more hazardous chemicals to battle the ‘superweeds.’ Farmers get trapped on the pesticide treadmill."

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