Now that the ordinance is enacted, we will have to work much harder to implement the controls. Legal sanctions are not the end but the beginning. But the ordinance will be a very valuable tool to help us in our fight.
The Legislative Council of the town of Monte Maiz in Cordoba, Argentina, last week unanimously approved the first six of 28 articles of a new by-law that sets limits on the spraying of pesticides and bans the storage of agrochemicals in the town.
The town is in a region that grows GM herbicide-tolerant soy and maize, which is sprayed liberally with Roundup / glyphosate and other herbicides, together with pesticides including the highly toxic chlorpyrifos.
City Council President Ignacio Silva said, "Although legal sanctions have not yet been completed, what happened yesterday was a crucial step because we voted through these six points unanimously. This shows that awareness has been generated in all the people and that all sectors are unified in the determination to improve people's lives in Monte Maiz."
Silva explained that among the proposals approved was one that set buffer zones, within which spraying is banned. From now on, class 3 and 4 chemicals (less toxic) cannot be sprayed within 500 meters of peoples' homes, and a buffer of trees must be planted. The most toxic chemicals cannot be sprayed within a kilometer of homes. Finally, 'Mosquito' spraying machines cannot be used or kept within two kilometers.
The 65,000 hectares of rich farmland around Monte Maiz are sprayed with some 630,000 litres of agrochemicals every year, and there are 22 hangers and other premises within the town where pesticides and spraying machinery are stored.
Serious health impacts attributed to agrochemicals
Monte Maiz is a town of 8,000 inhabitants located in the southeast of the province of Cordoba. In 2005, the then director of the local hospital, Hugo Betiol, announced the appearance of a large number of patients with cancer and lupus and children with malformations, a situation that gave rise to a neighborhood organization called the Network for the Protection of Health and Environment of Monte Maiz.
In 2014, supported by Mayor Luis Trotte, residents formed a group called the Physicians' Network of Sprayed Peoples. Finally, an interdisciplinary team from the Universities of Córdoba and La Plata conducted a health survey of 594 people, in addition to taking samples of soil and water.
One of the most significant findings obtained from the survey was that while the expectation of new cancer cases in Monte Maiz was 11 per year, in 2014 the town had 35 cases - three times as many. The town also had five times the national average of spontaneous abortions - and 50% of children between six and seven years had respiratory problems, when at that age the average is 10%.
According to the report, "Hypothyroidism showed a presence that exceeds almost twice that considered normal. Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus were also increased twice in relation to the expected frequency, lupus erythematosus is presented in a ratio of 1 case per 516 residents when the last global data relate one sick every 1123 inhabitants.
"The spontaneous abortions exceeded more than three times the expected prevalence (9.98% in Monte Maiz in Argentina vs 3%), and congenital malformations were 72% higher than the national rate."
Finally, a chance to improve health conditions
"The passage of this ordinance is important for residents. The have spent years fighting on this issue and months working on the ordinance. We've spent thousands of hours, much effort, and significant amounts of money to live in a healthier place", said Veronica Llopis, a member of the Network for the Protection of Health and Environment of Monte Maiz.
"Of course, now that the ordinance is enacted, we will have to work much harder to implement the controls. Legal sanctions are not the end but the beginning. But the ordinance will be a very valuable tool to help us in our fight."
Dr Vazquez Medardo Avila, the doctor from the University of Cordoba who led the survey, said: "This ordinance is a victory for human rights, life, and health over the interests of agribusiness."
"All the researchers are very pleased: we made a diagnosis and gave a recommendation", continued the pediatrician, who received threats and harassment after carrying out his research. "The people believed in us and in the residents who had been struggling for this change."
This article is based on a report / translation by Claire Robinson of GMWatch with some additional reporting by The Ecologist.
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