Date Added to website 17th August 2015
Argentina: Cancer increased fivefold in town near GM soy and maize fields
Comment: Yet more evidence of the appalling consequences of uncontrolled GMO plantings close to residential areas, and the uncontrolled use of aerial spraying with glyphosate and other chemicals. The work of Dr Medardo Avila Vazquez and his team is important, but its results are not surprising. Like Prof Andres Carrasco before him, Vazquez has attracted the fury of the GMO industry, which has gone out of its way to silence him -- in this case by trying to get him sacked from his university. The item at the base of this page deals with the National University of Cordoba’s proceedings against him, arising directly from his research which linked the cases of cancer and malformations in the Argentine town of Monte Maiz with the use of GMOs and chemicals. Huge public pressure forced the university to pull back, but it is still the case that any scientist who speaks out against the commercial interests of Monsanto and the other GMO industry big players can expect to be subjected to vilification and concerted attempts to destroy his / her career. Are we surprised?
Paediatrician who led the study calls for shift away from GM to organic production; says Argentina must learn from French and Dutch farming experts. Claire Robinson reports
The final report of an epidemiological study by the University of Cordoba in the Argentine town of Monte Maiz, where there is a high concentration of grain and pesticide stores, determined that cancer incidence is five times higher than average. Roundup is the most commonly sprayed chemical in the area.
Preliminary results of this report were released a few days after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic to humans" and there is "limited evidence" that it causes cancer in laboratory animal tests. Originally classified as "possibly carcinogenic to humans", glyphosate was reassessed in 1991 in another North American study which concluded otherwise.
The new survey was carried out in Monte Maiz, a town located 300 kilometers from the capital of Cordoba. It was carried out in October 2014 by a university team that conducted a health survey in which they studied the clinical history of 594 people out of a population of 8000. The pediatrician Vazquez Medardo Avila, a member of the Network of Doctors of Sprayed People and an author of the new study, said the team also surveyed the geospatial conditions within the area and found that “there was intense air pollution around grain stores in the centre of town, pesticide contamination in the streets, pesticide deposits between the houses of the villagers and spraying of the urban margins within a few meters of housing”.
Avila Vazquez continued, “Preliminary results were alarming: the town of Monte Maiz has five times more cancer cases than WHO estimates, 25 percent more asthma-like breathing problems and almost five times more spontaneous abortions.” The specialist also said that, “the population also had twice as many cases of type II diabetes and hypothyroidism than statistical averages, and an almost three times higher frequency of collagenopathies (inflammatory diseases of the autoimmune type).”
Avila Vázquez said that local people had complained for many years of high rates of cancer in areas where GM soy and maize are planted.
In 2007, alerted by the number of cancer cases, residents of Monte Maiz conducted a preliminary survey, but didn’t have anyone to help them in analyzing the data. Sergio Linares, member of the Network for Environmental Prevention and Health of Monte Maiz, said, "About 75 people from the town worked from house to house, and we had all that data, but we were unable to tabulate it. Yet we knew, for example, that there were 15 cases of lupus in a population of 8000 inhabitants."
From that study, Linares knew he had three types of chemicals in his blood, while one woman had up to ten types. Dealing daily with the illnesses of family, friends, and acquaintances, and with the smell from the spraying on the doorsteps of their houses, the group of residents followed up until in 2014 a newspaper published a map showing the incidence of cancer in the Cordoba population. "We saw that Monte Maiz was the most affected population. We began working with the city council and the mayor, Luis María Trotte, and contacted the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Córdoba,” said Linares.
Linares continued, ”When they came to do the survey, they were amazed at things that were familiar to us. For example, they could not believe how many children there were with mental health problems.” This is stated in the report, for which samples were processed in the laboratory of the National University of La Plata.
The epidemiological report from Monte Maiz comes a week after IARC’s report was published. "What the IARC says specifically is that glyphosate, the main herbicide sprayed there [in Monte Maiz], is categorized as Group 2A, which are pesticides for which there is a ‘probability’ that they cause cancer," said Avila Vázquez. "And this 'probability' is based on already existing epidemiological studies like ours and laboratory studies on how glyphosate impacts cancer development.”
Avila Vázquez added, “This is a great tool against claims by companies that pesticides are harmless. From now on, there will be no spraying within 500 or 1000 meters of any population, at least.”
Avila Vázquez also recommended not allowing “mosquito” spraying machines into residential areas, banning aerial spraying, and developing “programmes to encourage producers to abandon the use of agrochemicals and GMOs and shift to organic production methods”. He said advice should be obtained from experts in countries like France and Holland, which enjoy higher crop production without GM.
University’s attack on cancer researcher condemned
Residents call on University of Cordoba "to rethink its attitude, which is shameful to all those who dream of a university that puts knowledge at the service of the population"
More details have emerged about the National University of Cordoba’s proceedings against Dr Medardo Avila Vazquez, whose research linked the cases of cancer and malformations in the Argentine town of Monte Maiz with the use of GMOs and chemicals.
The new details appear in an article by the Argentine journalist Dario Aranda in the newspaper Pagina12.
According to the article, the dean of the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, National University of Cordoba (UNC), Juan Marcelo Conrero, took the highly unusual step of requesting an administrative inquiry and sanctions into the actions of the teacher and researcher at the Faculty of Medicine, Medardo Avila Vazquez.
The request was made after Avila Vazquez coordinated a health survey in the town of Monte Maiz, where he confirmed high rates of cancer, birth defects and spontaneous abortions. He linked the disease to transgenic and agrochemicals. Avila Vazquez commented, ”It is a clear ideological persecution. If the study had been favorable to Monsanto they would not have said anything – they would have praised it.”
The residents of Monte Maiz, the Faculty of Sciences of La Plata (which also participated in the health survey) and researchers from twelve countries supported Avila Vazquez.
In October 2014, the team of 70 researchers and students took up residence in Monte Maiz, a town of 8,000 inhabitants 300 kilometers from the capital of Cordoba. At the request of local organizations and the mayor, Luis Maria Trotte (Front for Victory party), stayed for five days and carried out a survey. The results: new cases of cancer are twice the national average, spontaneous abortions five times the national average, cancer mortality is three times the provincial average and the number of malformations are three times those in the records of Cordoba.
The team was composed of researchers from the Universities of Cordoba and La Plata (UNLP). The coordinator was Medardo Avila Vazquez.
The Board of the Faculty of Medicine accused the work of "lacking scientific backing”. He said the university did not authorize the survey and noted that it did not have the approval of the Ethics Committee.
The answer was provided by the Bioethics Committee of Environmental Health Study of Monte Maiz (a group of experts who had supervised the work). In a document of ten points they recalled that UNC’s own Faculty of Medicine disbanded the university’s Ethics Committee in order that it could not participate in the research. It added that the study was endorsed by the Board of Medical Sciences and by an agreement signed by the UNC rector, Francisco Tamarit, and Mayor Trotte.
The Bioethics Committee (composed of researchers and professionals from UNC, UNLP and the National University of Comahue) said that the work of Monte Maiz meets national and international scientific requirements and is subject to provincial and national legislation.
But the dean of Agricultural Sciences applied to the High Council of UNC and sought sanctions against the researcher. "I request that administrative actions are set in motion to investigate whether the actions of the doctor Medardo Avila Vazquez and the team merit disciplinary sanction,” begins Conrero’s letter.
Conrero said that the researchers had ”over-reached" in their work. He complained that they had spread "misleading" information and accused them of causing "fear" in the community of Monte Maiz. “For the sake of this prestigious university we cannot allow members of the same university to deceptively disseminate scientifically unvalidated data, causing irreparable damage to society," he said. Conrero did not mention any actual mistakes in the investigation.
The Monte Maiz residents who requested the survey, comprising the Network for Environmental Protection and Health, issued a statement in solidarity with Avila Vazquez. "We reject all manoeuvers of the outgoing Dean of the Faculty of Medicine (Gustavo Irico) to try to discredit this work (which was so much desired by our people). We repudiate all the insults poured on the person and the qualifications of Dr Avila Vazquez. We also reject the attitude of Dean Juan Conrero, who is acting in defence of the interests of the multinational company (Monsanto)," the statement said.
Conrero took office in June 2014. And only two months later, he signed a collaboration agreement with Monsanto. Monsanto is embroiled in a conflict with the Cordoba town of Malvinas Argentinas, which is resisting the company’s plan to build the largest GM maize installation in Latin America. Jorge Omar Dutto is the general secretary of the Faculty and Conrero’s right-hand man. He was also one of the authors of Monsanto’s environmental impact report written to support its application to build the installation in Cordoba.
Socio-environmental groups and organizations from Malvinas Argentinas and the capital city of Cordoba, along with teachers and students of the UNC, mobilized and denounced the contract between the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and Monsanto. Conrero was forced to back down and suspend the agreement.
The residents’ Network for Environmental Protection and Health of Monte Maiz stressed the importance of the work of all the researchers, but especially Avila Vazquez. They explained that, along with the council, they are working on an ordinance to limit the spraying and called the authorities of UNC "to rethink its attitude, which is shameful to all those who dream of a university that puts knowledge at the service of the population”.
Report: Claire Robinson, based on an article in Spanish by Dario Aranda in Pagina12