A deadly combination of the excessive use of Glyphosate herbicide on GM soybean crops and inaction by local doctors has allegedly left two children dead and 33 people (including 18 children) with poisoning symptoms in the Canindeyú region of Paraguay.
3-year-old Adelaida Alvarez died suddenly on Monday morning at home while her family was preparing to take her to the hospital, and her sister Adela Alvarez (6 months) died on Tuesday after being discharged from the Curuguaty Hospital.
The sudden poisoning outbreak in the Huber Duré settlement has left locals and the authorities shocked and the two children’s bodies have been sent to the Paraguayan capital Asunción for detailed autopsies.
However, even before the autopsy results Government officials have ruled out herbicide poisoning as a possible reason for the deaths, suggesting that a ‘respiratory virus’ is to blame for the outbreak.
Marcial Gomez, leader of the National Peasant Federation, reported that the first symptoms were a high fever, and doctors in the area have not provided the correct level of care.
Gomez stated that the large farmers in the area had just sprayed their fields with ‘a powerful herbicide’ to kill off the weeds before planting their soybean crops.
The reported poisoning outbreak in Huber Duré is not a one off case. Over the past few years there have been many reports of poisoning, abortions and the death of farm animals in the rural area. Following these cases local residents protested but this did not result in any action by the authorities.
Genetically Modified (GM) or RoundUp Ready (RR) soy has expanded steadily in Paraguay since neighboring Argentina approved its production in 1996. This GM soy variety is resistant to RoundUp herbicide (glyphosate), which allows large-scale monocultures to be grown. The beans were introduced illegally in Paraguay until October 2004, when the first four RR soybean varieties were approved by the Agriculture Ministry. At present it is calculated that more than 90% of the soy produced is genetically modified.
The expansion of GM soy monocultures and their dependency on a single herbicide have created increased tolerance and/or resistance among pest populations, resulting in the need to increase the quantities applied per unit of surface and the need to apply other herbicides. This has caused a threefold increase in the import of agrochemicals in to Paraguay over the past years. In 2006, it represented a business of USD 160 million annually, with an additional USD 50 million of illegally imported agrochemicals. Due to a combination of widespread corruption among local authorities, porous borders, and lax enforcement of environmental laws, more than 23 million litres of pesticides and herbicides are sprayed onto the Paraguayan soil every year, including several that are classified by the World Health Organization as extremely hazardous (like 2,4-D, Gramoxone, Paraquat, Metamidofos, and Endosulfan).
Paraguay is the world’s sixth producer and the fourth largest exporter of soybeans. The area under soy cultivation more than doubled from 1,150,000 ha in 1998 to 2,645,000 ha in 2008. In 2007, the area expanded by more than 200,000 ha.
Paraguay’s major soy producing states are Alto Parana, Itapua and Canindeyu, respectively producing 2,036,618, 1,411,313 and 1,401,086 tonnes soybeans per year. The frontiers of soy expansion are moving towards the center of the country, more precisely in Caazapá, San Pedro and Caaguazú.