by Richard Brenneman
August 17, 2010
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Glyphosphate, better know by its Monsanto trademark brand name Roundup, has become the linchpin of modern agriculture, with genetically modified [GM] crops designed to resist the powerful herbicide.
Between its patented plant killer and its GM “Roundup Ready” crops, Monsanto has emerged as a giant in the global agricultural industry, effectively controlling much of the globe’s farmlands.
So when a scientists raises troubling questions that Roundup may bear a responsibility for the global die-off of amphibians and could threaten developing embryos, he is threatening a multinational power drawing billions of dollars a year from the world’s farmers and their customers.
Andres Carrasco is a scientist and physician, a professor of embryology who serves as principal investigator for Argentina’s National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) and directs the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology at the Buenos Aires University Medical School.
Last year Carrasco told journalist Dario Aranda that he’d discovered that glyphosphate [N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine to you readers of a scientific bent] “is devastating to amphibian embryos. Even at doses far below those used in agriculture it causes many and varied deformations.”
So in addition to plant cells, it also affects organisms composed of animal cells. Our experiments warn that the cocktail sold as “pure” or harmless causes animal cells to generate developmental abnormalities in the embryo. Therefore glyphosate in the cell alters embryonic cell function, as in the plant cells of weeds. Moreover, it is already proven that herbicides are moved by wind. In reality, the suffering of families in camps near field boundaries and neighborhoods close to the spraying is incontrovertible. Therefore, glyphosate can be crossing respiratory barriers and / or entering placental and embryonic cells. There are even scientific advances in this direction, as there are records of glyphosate and possible metabolites in pregnant women. This could be correlated with potential effects including malformation. Therefore, if the degrading pure glyphosate which has been ingested has an effect on the behavior of embryonic cells in animals during development, it is essential that we examine this in a proper experimental strategy.
After Aranda reported on the findings of Carrasco’s 15-month research project last year, he wrote
Companies like Monsanto went ballistic and and began to issue press releases, alarmed by the possible negative impact on their profits. Five days later, on Monday 20, the Defense Ministry banned Soybean planting in their fields, citing the harmful effects of pesticides. This was an unprecedented political event, a national body warning of the evils of agrochemicals. At that time, businesses, chambers of industry, media communication operators and politicians declared the highest alert. Never before have multinational agribusiness and their spokesmen reacted so violently. During a full week they mounted a campaign in defense of the pesticides, and at the same time, they sought to discredit their critics.
Scheduled talk leads to violence
News of Carrasco’s findings spread rapidly through Argentina’s agricultural and farmworker communities, and activists began gathering data on birth defects and cancer rates among people exposed to the chemical.
The attacks on Carrasco’s research have gone well beyond verbal violence, as evidenced by events of earlier this month in a northern Argentinian town where he’d been invited to speak by local agrarian activists.
Amnesty International reports on what happened next:
On Saturday 7 August, community activists from La Leonesa, a small town located within an area of large scale rice production in the Argentinian Chaco Department, went to attend a talk that was to be given by Professor Andres Carrasco, a scientist and doctor from the Buenos Aires University Medical School. A delegation of two provincial deputies, a former public official and members of the neighbouring community of Resistencia also came to La Leonesa to hear the talk. Professor Andres Carrasco’s research, concluded in 2009, highlighted the negative effects of glyphosate, a commonly-used agro-chemical, on embryos.
On arrival in La Leonesa at around 4pm, the delegation headed for the school where the talk was due to take place. However, the talk was suspended because the delegation was attacked by a group of around 100 people who threatened them and beat them. One person has since suffered from lower body paralysis after being hit on his spine, and another is undergoing neurological examinations after receiving blows to the head. The former provincial Sub-Secretary of Human Rights, Marcelo Salgado, was struck in the face and left unconscious. Dr Carrasco and his colleague shut themselves in a car, and were surrounded by people making violent threats and beating the car for two hours. Members of the community were injured and a journalist’s camera equipment was damaged.
Members of the community who witnessed the incident have implicated local officials in the attack, as well as a local rice-producer and his workers and security guards. They strongly believe that the violence was promoted by them, and motivated by the powerful economic interests behind local agro-industry. Despite calls to local authorities asking for help, the police were slow to respond and failed to send sufficient reinforcements to stop the violence.
The human rights organization has urged supporters to:
• Call for an impartial investigation of the violence in La Leonesa on 7 August and prosecution of all those responsible, with particular focus on the possible involvement of local authorities in instigating or encouraging the violence and/or failing to prevent or halt violence by third parties;
• Call for swift action to ensure the safety and security of the residents of La Leonesa and neighbouring communities;
• Urge local authorities to protect the right to freedom of information and expression in order to allow the communities living in agro-industrial areas to seek, receive and disseminate information, including in public forums, around the possible effects of widespread spraying of crops;
• Where credible evidence regarding the negative health impact of spraying of agro-chemicals exists, health authorities must carry out monitoring and investigations in line with their responsibility to respect the right to health.
Deja vu, but without physical violence
While the reports don’t attribute the violence to Monsanto, the company has demonstrated its ruthlessness in attacking critics in the academic publishing forum, as UC Berkeley professor Ignacio Chapela discovered.
As Sourcewatch reports:
Dr Ignacio Chapela, Associate Professor at UC Berkeley and graduate student David Quist were the target of attack by Monsanto after publishing a paper in the science journal Nature telling of contamination of indigenous Mexican maize [corn] with GMOs. The lead-up to the incident, however, is downright spooky. Still Chapela was determined to publish what they found. So Monsanto employed the services of a firm called Bivings Group which used a phony e-mail campaign to persuade the prestigious science journal Nature to retract the paper, the first time in the publication's 133 year history that it had ever retracted a paper. . . The architect of the deception is thought by some to have been Monsanto's Jay Byrne who was also active in attempts to shut down web sites critical of Monsanto. . . “It shows an organization that is determined to push its products into countries around the world and it’s determined to destroy the reputation of anybody who stands in their way,” said GM Watch’s Jonathan Matthews in The World According to Monsanto.
After the controversy broke, Chapela was denied tenure in a controversial set of actions upheld by then-Chancellor Robert Berdahl. Only after filing legal action did Chapela win permanent tenured status at the university.
Monsanto has emerged as a major player in the business of developing crops to be converted into fuels, and Chapela’s university now houses the largest agrofuel program in the nation, funded by BP. The program’s director is a multimillionaire scientist who made his fortune developing GM crops and selling them to Monsanto.