The biggest importer of soy in Denmark, DLG, is owned by the Danish farmers. From DLG the farmers buy a large proportion of the soy that provides proteins for the animal feed that is necessary for them to supply milk, pork and eggs to Arla, Danish Crown and DanÆg.
In 2010 Denmark imported one million tons of soy from Argentina worth a total of DKK 2.3 billion (approx. USD 440 million). That is more than 70 per cent of our total import of soy for animal feed.
In Argentina almost all soy is is Roundup Ready. This means that the plants through genetic modification have been made resistant to the herbicide Roundup. But the weed too has become resistant, which has led to a massive increase in the use of Roundup. In little more than a decade the amount used has increased by 14 times, while the yield from the production has only quintupled.
Pesticides associated with deformities
Aurelio is 16 years old and goes to school in Argentina's poorest province, Chaco – one of the places from which Danish farmers purchase soy. Aurelio's school is like a small island in an endless sea of genetically modified soy fields. At regular intervals crop dusting planes fly above the school area.
”The diagnoses leukaemia, cancer, tumours and cases of deformities and spontaneous abortions have increased considerably in the last years in these communities”, a 2010 study by the authorities in Chaco shows.
The study specifically points out that the number of children with birth deformities has increased four-fold in 10 years.
Spraying of soy and rice with glyphosate, among other pesticides, has increased. This has happened parallel to the damages that can be seen on children in the province, the study also shows.
It is mentioned that the diseases could also be caused by things other than pesticides. However, it is not the only study which suggests a possible connection: A scientific study from Paraguay has found similar embryo damages in women exposed to glyphosate based pesticides during their pregnancy. And a 2010 scientific study from a university in Buenos Aires has found corresponding embryo damages in frogs and chickens exposed to glyphosate – even in lower concentrations than average dosage.
Another challenge which the authorities in Chaco point out is that it is not only glyphosate that is sprayed out on the fields. Other, and more harmful, chemicals are added as well.
”The glyphosate being used contains other substances that are just as poisonous (sometimes even more poisonous) than glyphosate, and when they are sprayed out together, a poisonous effect is triggered”, the study from Chaco shows.
See DanWatch's video on soy and its health consequences in Argentina:
Local experts raise alarm
In Argentina experts point out the negative consequences of the agricultural sector's handling of pesticides.
”We are very concerned about the application of pesticides, because we have long observed genetic defects in children born by women who have had contact with the pesticides”, says biochemist Horacio Lucero. He is a researcher and chief of the Laboratory for Molecular Biology at the Northwestern National University in Chaco.
Claudia Nigro, veterinary professor at the University of Rosario, fears the long-term consequences:
”They have lost control over the technological instruments (the pesticides, ed.) and have turned Argentina into an open-air laboratory. The population in Argentina and Chaco has become the lab rats of the multinational corporations without our consent. We do not know the long-term consequences.”
Mariano Aguilar, Executive Director of the Environmental Lawyers Association of Argentina, points out that the legislation on pesticides in Argentina is in place. The problem is that it is not complied with in practice.
Danish farmers not aware of any problems
DanWatch has asked DLG, Arla, Danish Crown and DanÆg whether they are aware of the health-risks which glyphosate is suspected of causing in Argentina. None of the companies we have talked with are familiar with this particular issue.
Read their comments to the story here. (in Danish)