Thursday, October 19, 2017

Two Thirds of ALL Insects have Disappeared!

Warning of 'ecological Armageddon' after dramatic plunge in insect numbers
Three-quarters of flying insects in nature reserves across Germany have vanished in 25 years, with serious implications for all life on Earth, scientists say

 Insects caught in a malaise trap
 Flying insects caught in a malaise trap, used by entomologists to collect samples. Photograph: Courtesy of Entomologisher Verein Krefeld

Damian Carrington Environment editor TheGuardian
Wednesday 18 October 2017 14.00 EDT Last modified on Thursday 19 October 2017 04.52 EDT

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists.

Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.

The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardised ways of collecting insects in 1989. Special tents called malaise traps were used to capture more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects at 63 different nature reserves.

 Malaise traps were set in protected areas in Germany as part of the study

 The malaise traps set in protected areas and reserves, which scientists say makes the declines even more worrying. Photograph: Courtesy of Courtesy of Entomologisher Verein Krefeld
When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak.

Previous reports of insect declines have been limited to particular insects, such European grassland butterflies, which have fallen by 50% in recent decades. But the new research captured all flying insects, including wasps and flies which are rarely studied, making it a much stronger indicator of decline.

The fact that the samples were taken in protected areas makes the findings even more worrying, said Caspar Hallmann at Radboud University, also part of the research team: “All these areas are protected and most of them are well-managed nature reserves. Yet, this dramatic decline has occurred.”

The amateur entomologists also collected detailed weather measurements and recorded changes to the landscape or plant species in the reserves, but this could not explain the loss of the insects. “The weather might explain many of the fluctuations within the season and between the years, but it doesn’t explain the rapid downward trend,” said Martin Sorg from the Krefeld Entomological Society in Germany, who led the amateur entomologists.

Goulson said a likely explanation could be that the flying insects perish when they leave the nature reserves. “Farmland has very little to offer for any wild creature,” he said. “But exactly what is causing their death is open to debate. It could be simply that there is no food for them or it could be, more specifically, exposure to chemical pesticides, or a combination of the two.”

In September, a chief scientific adviser to the UK government warned that regulators around the world have falsely assumed that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes and that the “effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored”.

The scientists said further work is urgently needed to corroborate the new findings in other regions and to explore the issue in more detail. While most insects do fly, it may be that those that don’t, leave nature reserves less often and are faring better. It is also possible that smaller and larger insects are affected differently, and the German samples have all been preserved and will be further analysed.

In the meantime, said De Kroon: “We need to do less of the things that we know have a negative impact, such as the use of pesticides and the disappearance of farmland borders full of flowers.”

 Bird eating an insect

 As well as being pollinators insects provide food for birds and other animals and help control pests. Photograph: Kevin Elsby/Alamy

Lynn Dicks at the University of East Anglia, UK, and not involved in the new research said the work was convincing. “It provides important new evidence for an alarming decline that many entomologists have suspected is occurring for some time.”

“If total flying insect biomass is genuinely declining at this rate – about 6% per year – it is extremely concerning,” she said. “Flying insects have really important ecological functions, for which their numbers matter a lot. They pollinate flowers: flies, moths and butterflies are as important as bees for many flowering plants, including some crops. They provide food for many animals – birds, bats, some mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Flies, beetles and wasps are also predators and decomposers, controlling pests and cleaning up the place generally.”

Another way of sampling insects – car windscreens – has often been anecdotally used to suggest a major decline, with people remembering many more bugs squashed on their windscreens in the past.

“I think that is real,” said Goulson. “I drove right across France and back this summer – just when you’d expect your windscreen to be splattered all over – and I literally never had to stop to clean the windscreen.”
Read it here

This study is indicative of the entire world. Let's not stick our heads in the sand any longer. Stop using weed killers, bug sprays , mosquito sprays and the like. Remember the web of life is intricately woven. 
Beekeepers have an even more important role in NOT using these chemicals in their hives! Choose your honey source wisely, know your beekeeper.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Bee Pathogens

To save honey bees, human behavior must change

Poor management practices have enabled spread of bee pathogens

April 6, 2017
Entomological Society of America
In the search for answers to the complex health problems and colony losses experienced by honey bees in recent years, it may be time for professionals and hobbyists in the beekeeping industry to look in the mirror. In a new research essay, one researcher argues that human activity is a key driver in the spread of pathogens afflicting the European honey bee.

In the search for answers to the complex health problems and colony losses experienced by honey bees in recent years, it may be time for professionals and hobbyists in the beekeeping industry to look in the mirror.
In a research essay to be published this week in the Entomological Society of America's Journal of Economic Entomology, Robert Owen argues that human activity is a key driver in the spread of pathogens afflicting the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) -- the species primarily responsible for pollination and honey production around the world -- and recommends a series of collective actions necessary to stem their spread. While some research seeks a "magic bullet" solution to honeybee maladies such as Colony Collapse Disorder, "many of the problems are caused by human action and can only be mitigated by changes in human behavior," Owen says.
Owen is author of The Australian Beekeeping Handbook, owner of a beekeeping supply company, and a Ph.D. candidate at the Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis (CEBRA) at the University of Melbourne. In his essay in the Journal of Economic Entomology, he outlines an array of human-driven factors that have enabled the spread of honey bee pathogens:
  • Regular, large-scale, and loosely regulated movement of bee colonies for commercial pollination. (For instance, in February 2016 alone, of the 2.66 million managed bee colonies in the United States, 1.8 million were transported to California for almond crop pollination.).
  • Carelessness in the application of integrated pest management principles leading to overuse of pesticides and antibiotics, resulting in increased resistance to them among honey bee parasites and pathogens such as the Varroa destructor mite and the American Foul Brood bacterium (Paenibacillus larvae),
  • The international trade in honey bees and honey bee products that has enabled the global spread of pathogens such as varroa destructor, tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi), Nosema cerana, Small Hive Beetle (Aethina tumida ), and the fungal disease chalkbrood (Ascosphaera apis).
  • Lack of skill or dedication among hobbyist beekeepers to adequately inspect and manage colonies for disease.
Owen offers several suggestions for changes in human behavior to improve honey bee health, including:
  • Stronger regulation both of global transport of honey bees and bee products and of migratory beekeeping practices within countries for commercial pollination.
  • Greater adherence to integrated pest management practices among both commercial and hobbyist beekeepers.
  • Increased education of beekeepers on pathogen management (perhaps requiring such education for registration as a beekeeper).
  • Deeper support networks for hobby beekeepers, aided by scientists, beekeeping associations, and government.
"The problems facing honeybees today are complex and will not be easy to mitigate," says Owen. "The role of inappropriate human action in the spread of pathogens and the resulting high numbers of colony losses needs to be brought into the fore of management and policy decisions if we are to reduce colony losses to acceptable levels."

Story Source:
Materials provided by Entomological Society of America. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. Robert Owen. Role of Human Action in the Spread of Honey Bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae) Pathogens. Journal of Economic Entomology, 2017; DOI: 10.1093/jee/tox075

Cite This Page:
Entomological Society of America. "To save honey bees, human behavior must change: Poor management practices have enabled spread of bee pathogens, bee researcher argues." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 April 2017. <>.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

First US bumblebee species listed as endangered after numbers plummet

First US bumblebee species listed as endangered after numbers plummet

One of several species facing sharp declines, the bumblebee known to scientists as Bombus affinis has plunged nearly 90% in abundance and distribution since the late 1990s, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The agency listed the insect after determining it to be in danger of extinction across all or portions of its range, attributing its decline to a mix of factors, including disease, pesticides, climate change and habitat loss.
Named for the conspicuous reddish blotch on its abdomen, the rusty patched bumblebee once flourished across 28 states, primarily in the upper Midwest and Northeast – from South Dakota to Connecticut – and in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
Today, only a few small, scattered populations remain in 13 states and Ontario, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.
The agency in September listed seven varieties of yellow-faced, or masked, bees in Hawaii as endangered. But Bombus affinis is the first bumblebee species to given that status, and the first wild bee of any kind to be listed in the Lower 48 states.
Bumblebees, as distinguished from domesticated honeybees, are essential pollinators of wildflowers and about a third of all US crops, from blueberries to tomatoes, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which petitioned the government for protection of the insect.
Pollination services furnished by various insects in the United States, mostly by bees, have been valued at an estimated $3bn each year.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature ranks the rusty patched as one of 47 species of native US and Canadian bumblebees, more than a quarter of which face a risk of extinction.
Government scientists point to a certain class of pesticides called neonicotinoids – widely used on crops, lawns, gardens and forests – as posing a particular threat to bees because they are absorbed into a plant’s entire system, including leaf tissue, nectar and pollen.
Bumblebee populations may be especially vulnerable to pesticides applied early in the year because for one month an entire colony depends on the success of a solitary queen that emerges from winter dormancy, the wildlife service said.
Listing under the Endangered Species Act generally restricts activities known to harm the creature in question and requires the government to prepare a recovery plan. It also raises awareness and helps focus conservation planning for the imperiled species.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Feds List 7 Hawaii Bee Species as Endangered, a First in US

Feds List 7 Hawaii Bee Species as Endangered, a First in US

Federal authorities on Friday added seven yellow-faced bee species, Hawaii's only native bees, for protection under the Endangered Species Act, a first for any bees in the United States.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the listing after years of study by the conservation group Xerces Society, state government officials and independent researchers. The Xerces Society says its goal is to protect nature's pollinators and invertebrates, which play a vital role in the health of the overall ecosystem.
The nonprofit organization was involved in the initial petitions to protect the bee species, said Sarina Jepson, director of endangered species and aquatic programs for the Portland, Oregon-based group.
Jepson said yellow-faced bees can be found elsewhere in the world, but these particular species are native only to Hawaii and pollinate plant species indigenous to the islands.
The bees face a variety of threats including "feral pigs, invasive ants, loss of native habitat due to invasive plants, fire, as well as development, especially in some for the coastal areas," Jepson told The Associated Press.
The bees can be found in a wide variety of habitats in Hawaii, from coastal environments to high-elevation shrub lands, she said. The yellow-faced bees pollinate some of Hawaii's endangered native plant species. While other bees could potentially pollinate those species, many could become extinct if these bees were to die off entirely.
Hawaii-based entomologist Karl Magnacca worked with Xerces on much of the initial research. It has taken almost 10 years to get to this point, he told the AP. "It's good to see it to finally come to fruition," he said.
The bees "tend to favor the more dominant trees and shrubs we have here," he said. "People tend to focus on the rare plants, and those are important, that's a big part of the diversity. But the other side is maintaining the common ones as common. (The bees) help maintain the structure of the whole forest."
Magnacca added that there are a lot more rare insects that deserve protection. "It may not necessarily be appropriate to list them as endangered, but we have this huge diversity that we need to work on and protect here in Hawaii," he said. "There's a huge amount of work that needs to be done."
The bees are critical for maintaining the health of plants and other animals across the islands, said Gregory Koob, conservation and restoration team manager for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Honolulu.
There is no designated critical habitat attached to the listing, he said, but the protection will allow authorities to implement recovery programs, access funding and limit their harm from outside sources. All federal agencies must consult with the Fish and Wildlife service when interacting with endangered species.
"As an animal, it can't be taken or harmed or killed by individuals," Koob said. "Any research that is done needs a permit from Fish and Wildlife Service unless it's done by a state agency."
Koob said that if the bees were removed from ecosystem, the plants that they pollinate would likely not survive.
"Those plants are not only food and nesting habitat for the bees, but they also provide habitat for other animals," he said. "It's the web of life."
Friday's listing finalized the protection of 10 animal species in Hawaii, the seven bees along with the band-rumped storm-petrel, the orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly and the anchialine pool shrimp. It also added 39 species of plants native to Hawaii.
The rusty-patched bumble bee, found widely across the continental United States, is also being considered for protection.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bumblebees May Be Next on US Endangered Species List.

 Bumblebees, or wild bees, one of the primary agricultural pollinators in the US, have reached the “endangered species” threshold.
 The US Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday proposed listing the rusty patched bumble bee for federal protection as an endangered species. The species, named for a distinctive red patch on its belly, was once abundant in the upper Midwestern and northeastern United States, but its population has been reduced by almost 90 percent over the last 20 years.
 The US Fish and Wildlife Service says that disease, pesticides, climate change and habitat loss are contributing to the decline of the wild bee population. This insect is a vitally important pollinator for almost one-third of US crops, from blueberries to tomatoes.
 Sarina Jepsen of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation says neonicotinoid pesticides, commonly used in insecticides such as those manufactured by Bayer, are a key factor in decimating wild bee populations. "[The] Endangered Species Act safeguards are now the only way the bumble bee would have a fighting chance for survival," said Jepsen .
 The problem is not only affecting the rusty patched bumblebee, as, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), more than one quarter of the 47 varieties of wild bees present in the US are at risk of extinction. In Russia, eight species of bumble bees are included in the so-called Red Book, a state document that lists endangered species protected in the country.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

United States beekeepers get nailed with Naled.

MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) — Dozens of protesters lined up in front of Miami Beach city hall as local leaders talked about a chemical causing debate in the Zika fight – Naled.
Mosquito control crews were set to spray Naled over Miami Beach, just like they did in Wynwood, starting Thursday but growing concerns from residents and local leaders prompted a delay.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued a statement on the matter, saying in part:
“During today’s meeting with the City of Miami Beach, City leadership, and residents asked for more time to prepare and inform Miami Beach residents and visitors about our aerial spraying plan. In consultation with health experts and the City of Miami Beach, we have agreed to delay aerial spraying with adulticide by one day. We will begin spraying on Friday around 5:00 a.m, weather permitting, and will spray this Sunday, and the following two weekends. This schedule will minimize disruption to our school children and families.”
Earlier, residents and local officials sat down for an informational meeting – a meeting wrought with major debate on Naled. Crowds at the meeting inside city hall were passionate Wednesday morning as Mayor Gimenez spoke about the scheduled spray meant to control the mosquito population – a culprit in the spread of the virus.
“The city of Miami Beach offered a reasonable solution to spray natural pesticide and it was overridden by the state,” said Miami Beach resident Michael Capponi.
Also there, were state health officials, CDC representatives, and Naled experts. The residents did not want to hear from any of them during the meeting. Protesters carrying signs demanded that independent experts speak about Naled.
“This chemical was ran out of Puerto Rico. It’s been banned in 22 European Unions and it’s the wrong message to be sent especially when you’re dealing with tourism here in Miami,” said business owner Chad Allison.
Zika 101: Prevent Spread By Protecting Yourself
Despite expert advice that the amount of Naled to be sprayed is too low to be harmful, many worry it’s dangerous and poses health risks. In this case, it will be spread offshore, then waft over land.
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is not happy about it; however, he says, based on what the experts tell him, it must be done. Over the weekend, the number of mosquitos caught in traps went up – meaning the population is growing.
“It came from the strong recommendation, from what we’ve been told, by the CDC, as well as the surgeon general, the Department of Agriculture and that decision, truly is solely made by the governor of the state of Florida,” said Levine on Tuesday.
Levine said he learned from the state on Tuesday through a news release that Florida Governor Rick Scott was mandating the spraying of Naled on the beach using its helicopters and its contractors – a decision that Mayor Gimenez is also supporting.
“I have to do my duty and I know that every once in a while, I have to make a very difficult decisions that are not going to be fully supported by the people,” said Mayor Gimenez.
He says he is trying to be consistent and follow expert recommendations.
“If the commission doesn’t want this, then I need to go back to my attorney and say do I have the duty and right to do this. I need to be consistent in the application of how we’re going to fight mosquitoes in Miami-Dade County,” said Gimenez. “I cannot choose one community over another community.”
Related: Trucks Take On Zika In Miami Beach
The recommendations came after mosquitoes in Miami Beach tested positive for the Zika virus last week, prompting stepped up spraying efforts in the city’s transmission zone. Despite that, the mosquito population grew, raising more concern about the spread of the virus that has been linked to severe birth defects in children.
For Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola, the link to birth defects is a big issue for him.
“I have an unborn child that I am taking care of and I’m worried about Zika,” said Arriola. “Can I look at myself in the mirror if something were to happen to my child or any of your children? The answer to that is no.”
As for how to stop the scheduled spraying Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco said, “The only way this gets stopped is one of two ways – either the county reconsiders or we’re able to get an injunction. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that.”
Grieco told CBS4’s Silva Harapetian, he had an attorney already lined up in case they had to file for an injunction.
As of Wednesday, there were 56 non-travel related cases of the virus in Florida and 596 travel-related cases. Eighty pregnant women in the state have been infected with Zika.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Our Chemicals Are Killing Honey Bees’ Sex Lives

Our Chemicals Are Killing Honey Bees’ Sex Lives

The birds may be fine, but a new study shows the bees are having some serious fertility issues.

07/28/2016 08:43 pm ET
If there’s a species that doesn’t need an unintentional dose of birth control, it’s the honey bee.
A new study, however, suggests two common neonicotinoid insecticides are not only shortening the overall lifespan of male honey bees, known as drones, but also inhibiting their ability to produce viable sperm.
The chemicals’ contraceptive effects, warn researchers from Switzerland’s University of Bern, could have “profound consequences for the health of the queen, as well as the entire colony.”

The Washington Post via Getty Images
A male drone bee cleans his legs atop a hive.

The study, led by Bern doctoral student Lars Straub and published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the latest bit of bad news for the planet’s most important pollinators, which are facing an onslaught of threats.
“We know multiple stressors can affect honey bee health, including parasites and poor nutrition,” senior author Geoff Williams of the University of Bern and Agroscope said in a statement. “It is possible that agricultural chemicals may also play an important role.”
Male honey bees obtained from colonies exposed to thiamethoxam and clothianidin were shown to have live sperm counts 39 percent lower than those not exposed, according to the study. The findings, the researchers say, “demonstrate for the first time that neonicotinoid insecticides can negatively affect male insect reproductive capacity.”
Additionally, the study found that the lifespans of chemically exposed bees were reduced by roughly 32 percent, from an average 22 days to 15 days.

Lars Straub, University of Bern
Fluorescence microscopy revealing living (stained in bluish-green) and dead (stained in red) male honey bee sperm.

Despite increased efforts to reverse declining bee populations, U.S beekeepers lost 44 percent of their total colonies from April 2015 to March 2016, an increase of 3.5 percentage points over the previous year, according to the findings of an annual survey released in May. Known threats include the parasitic varroa mite, malnutrition from habitat loss and pesticides.
As the authors note in a press release, the two neonicotinoids involved in the study are partially banned in Europe. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing neonicotinoids after a study found the chemicals can impair bumblebees’ learning and memory and blunt their ability to forage. Preliminary risk assessments for thiamethoxam and clothianidin are scheduled for release in December.
Scientists are particularly concerned about declining bee populations because of the potential impact on food security. The insects pollinate 75 percent of the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the United States, and add at least $15 billion in economic value to the country’s agricultural industry.
Study co-author Peter Neumann said in a statement that the results “highlight the need for stringent environmental risk assessments of agricultural chemicals to protect biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2016





Puerto Rico Mayors Label Anti-Zika Pesticide Use 'Environmental Terrorism'

An anti-fumigation movement has been raising concerns about U.S. recommendations to use aerial spraying to control the spread of Zika.

Puerto Rican mayors from across the political divide have joined together to take a stand against Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla’s controversial pending plan to combat Zika transmitting mosquitos on the island with aerial fumigation, local media reported Wednesday.
The dozen local public officials behind the cause are part of a movement in Puerto Rico against proposed widespread use of the insecticide known as Naled. The Coalition Against Fumigation, made up of farmers, doctors, and other activists, has spearheaded the campaign.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz argued on Tuesday that a decision to allow aerial Naled fumigation would be a form of “environmental terrorism.” Critics of the insecticide raise concerns over potential adverse effects of the chemical on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, particularly bee populations, which have been in decline around the world in recent years.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended Naled spraying for the island amid concern over the spread of the mosquito-born Zika virus. The administration of Garcia Padilla is expected to finalize a decision on whether to move forward with the plan this week, El Vocero reported.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, studies carried out in Puerto Rico in February and March of this year found the method was “highly effective” at eliminating adult female Aedes aegypti mosquitos that carry the Zika virus.
The EPA specifies that Naled should be applied in small doses of less than 0.1 pounds of active ingredient per acre, along with other “inert” ingredients in the insecticide, in order to be an effective public health measure “without posing risks to people.” Research by the Extension Toxicology Network in the late 1990’s found that Naled is “moderately toxic” and that “chronic exposure” could cause nervous system damage.
The CDC sprayed Naled in Puerto Rico across some 177,000 acres of the San Juan area in 1987 in an effort to control the spread of Dengue fever, according to the EPA. The insecticide is also currently being used on some 16 million acres on the U.S. mainland “as part of routine mosquito control,” according to the agency.
Puerto Rico’s anti-fumigation movement has also stood in solidarity with the ongoing protest camp set up at the end of June outside the U.S. court in the Hato Rey area of San Juan to protest the U.S. federal control board imposed on the island through the controversial PROMESA bill to deal with the US$73 billion debt crisis.
According to local media, the Coalition Against Fumigation has organized an action on Thursday at 6:00 p.m. local time to raise awareness about the issue.

by teleSUR / hg-PV-egb

Monday, June 27, 2016

Are GMO soybeans growing near you?


In Photos: Argentine villagers blame pesticide spraying for serious health problems

Residents of the village of Avia Terai, in the Argentine province of Chaco, live surrounded by genetically modified soybean crops. They say that this means regular spraying with pesticides, which they claim has brought them more health problems than such a small rural community would normally expect.
The villagers allowed photographer Jean-Jerome Destouches to capture their daily lives on camera.
María del Carmen Seveso, a doctor from the city of Saez Peña, about 12 miles from Avia Terai, says she has no doubt that the pesticides cause cancer and other serious illnesses.
Seveso claims that the number of newborns with congenital illnesses at the hospital where she worked jumped from 46 in 1998, around the time that pesticide spraying began in the area, to 186 in 2009.
These conclusions were included within a report published by the National Health Commission that also interviewed over 2,000 people in the area. It found that 31 percent of those interviewed in Avia Terai reported a relative with cancer in the last decade. The figure was three percent in another village called Charadai, far from soybean crops.
Dr. Damien Verzeñassi, of Rosario University, said the initial analysis of data collected related to 120,000 people living within a kilometer of sprayed crops, suggests cancer rates three times the national average. The study, he added, has yet to be published.
Argentina's authorities, meanwhile, have said they would need more than studies like these to make major policy changes. The country is a major world exporter of soybean oil, and industrial agriculture has an important wider role in the economy.
"I can't tell you how many documents and studies I've read, as well as videos against biotechnology, articles in the media, and in the universities, in Argentina and in Great Britain too," former Argentine agriculture secretary Lorenzo Basso told a press conference in 2013. "And the truth is that if you read all of this you end up in a kind of mix salad where everyone is confused."
Farmers in the Chaco region commonly rely on weedkillers that include glyphosate, such as the brand Roundup produced by agribusiness giant Monsanto.
The company has always insisted that glyphosate is safe to use if handled properly. Monsanto has the backing of some parts of the scientific community, as well as regulatory agencies all over the world. These include the Environmental Protection Agency in the US, which has approved and reapproved the use of Roundup.
Controversy over the chemical has nevertheless heated up in recent years, as its use has become more common.
The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer pronounced glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic" in March 2015. The WHO appeared to reverse its position two months later when, together with the Food and Agricultural Organization, it released a report that concluded that glyphosate is "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans." The second report, however, only referred to consuming crops that had been sprayed with the chemical.
Glyphosate was back in the news earlier this month when the European Union refused to make a decision on whether to approve a proposal to extend the permit to use the herbicide in the region, while further scientific study is carried out by the European Chemicals Agency. The issue is expected to be put to another vote shortly.
(All photos by Jean-Jerome Destouches//Hans Lucas Studio/VICE News)
Photo by Jean-Jerome Destouches//Hans Lucas Studio/VICE News
Silvia Ponce lives in Avia Terai with her seven children in a house that lies 20 meters from crops that are sprayed with glyphosate. Ponce remembers that once, when she was pregnant with Aixa who is now nine years old, she was directly sprayed with pesticides and felt she was suffocating. Her new baby was then born covered with hairy moles, some of which have turned carcinogenic and been surgically removed. Aixa also suffers from fevers and near-immediate burning if she spends too much time in the sun, which is hard to avoid in the region where temperatures typically reach 104 degrees in the summer. Ponce says that another child in her barrio has the same condition. "I was told by doctors that her skin disease might have been caused by pesticides sprayed in soybean and cotton crops," she said. "But for my daughter's problem it is impossible to prove it at 100 percent."
Photo by Jean-Jerome Destouches//Hans Lucas Studio/VICE News
Many of Avia Terai's inhabitants don't have running water in their homes. Instead they collect rainwater, often from gutters in their roofs. This opens them to the consumption of pesticides dissolved in the water after it was sprayed by planes and then blown into the community by the wind.
Photo by Jean-Jerome Destouches//Hans Lucas Studio/VICE News
Soybean is not the only genetically modified plant cultivated in Avia Terai. Cotton is also grown in large quantities and regularly sprayed with glyphosate. A lab nearby specializes in developing new cotton seeds.
Photo by Jean-Jerome Destouches//Hans Lucas Studio/VICE News
Camila Verón was born five years ago with Lowe syndrome, which means she suffers from glaucoma, kidney dysfunction, and cognitive disabilities. Camila's mother, Silvia Achaval, says that the doctors who first saw her daughter told her they couldn't explain the cause of her condition, but they did ask her if she lived near soybean crops. "When they asked me that I understood why my daughter was ill," she said.
Photo by Jean-Jerome Destouches//Hans Lucas Studio/VICE News
Doctors from the University Network for Environment and Health estimate that 12 million Argentines face health risks from exposure to pesticides. "When we arrived here nobody told us that it was dangerous for our health," said Silvia Ponce. "Our children play every day in soybean and cotton crops."
Photo by Jean-Jerome Destouches//Hans Lucas Studio/VICE News
Marisa Gutman runs a center in the nearby city of Saenz Pena dedicated to children with disabilities from Avia Terai and other villages in the area, many of which are also surrounded by GM crops that are sprayed with glyphosate. "Many of the children in my center suffer of severe congenital diseases. They have multiple disabilities," she said. "For us, soybean means illness."
Photo by Jean-Jerome Destouches//Hans Lucas Studio/VICE News
Ángel Cano, Aixa's father, works in a brick-making workshop close to the house. He says that pesticide planes pass by several times a day, though the frequency depends on the weather. "There was a meeting in Avia Terai where farmers agreed to warn us before they sprayed the chemicals by plane so we could protect ourselves and our water well, but they never did," he said. "I knew a guy who used to grow soybean and used a lot of Roundup, but now he had to stop working because his skin started burning. He went to the doctor who told him that he has a skin cancer."
Follow Jean-Jerome Destouches on Twitter: @DestouchesJJ
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