(MintPress) — Farmers in Argentina have long accused agriculture giant Monsanto for the widespread birth defects experienced by their children, and each year, more and more workers step forward, claiming the harsh pesticides are causing health issues and, in some cases, death.
Now an Argentine lawyer is calling out the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), claiming it’s working hand-in-hand with the pesticide regulatory body, pushing through projects, despite known dangers to human health and the environment.
Dr. Graciela Gomez, who specializes in environmental law, filed the complaint with the IDB in January, alleging the bank was involved in corrupt practices benefiting foreign genetically modified crop companies, including U.S.-based Monsanto and Dow Chemical.
Gomez filed the complaint on behalf of presumed victims and family members who have already filed lawsuits claiming ill effects from exposure to agrochemicals, in the worst-case scenario, resulting in death.
The IDB has acknowledged receipt of the complaint and released a statement claiming it will move forward with Gomez’s concerns in mind.
“The IDB project team leader will be in charge of following up with the implementation of the agreements reached,” the IDB states on its website.
This, however, doesn’t seal the deal for Gomez, who is pushing forward in her allegations that large companies are benefiting, while the people of Argentina suffer severe health complications. In correspondence with MintPress, Gomez told her story.
Loan operation and credit line
In 2008, the IDB’s Board of Executive Directors approved a 15-year “conditional credit line” of up to $300 million (U.S.) to finance operations to implement a plan to modernize SENASA (Servicio Nacional de Sanidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria), the national regulatory body for the use of agrochemicals and pesticides, according to a document released by the IDB.
So, in essence, the IDB funded the program that gives the environmental assessments for projects to take place.
“The aim of the program and the credit line is ‘to help bring about a sustained increase in the domestic and international competitiveness of Argentina’s agricultural and agro industrial sectors. The purpose is to strengthen and expand the country’s capacity to protect and improve agricultural, agri food and fisheries health and quality,’” the IDB documents state on the matter.
The document goes on to describe SENASA’s plan as one intent on the objective to harmonize the regulatory framework for the regulatory body.
“This includes the standards that regulate the classification and registration of phytosanitary products, including agrochemicals,” the documents state.
The IDB touts itself as a bank that cares about the people of Latin America. With a website that includes the headlines, “Sustainable and Inclusive Growth” and “Housing deficits in Latin
America and the Caribbean,” it sends the message that it’s looking out for the people. But Gomez is alleging that isn’t so.
SENSEA is accused of violating the Administrative Procedures Act for using “deceptive practices to apply certain ‘poisons’ (that) are not beneficial in a model where income productivism is more important than the health of the Argentines,” Gomez said.
Gomez cited that in the process of flawed environmental reviews, which allow foreign corporations to sell and use pesticides in a widespread manner, laws are violated, including the right of the child to enjoy highest attainable standard of health (Convention on the Rights of the Child) and labor laws that protect farmers from harmful working conditions.
In April, the IDB issued a press release, in which it showed its solidarity with the World Bank, claiming the countries within Latin America should seize the opportunity to develop infrastructure to support economic growth, claiming it can buck the global debt crisis trend.
“Latin America has made significant strides in addressing its social and economic gaps, proving that sound economic policy coupled with social inclusion can bring opportunity and hope for poor people,” World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick said in a press release. “To sustain the social and economic gains of the past decade, the region needs to address critical bottlenecks to improve productivity, and successfully compete in the global economy.”
But at what cost? According to Gomez and the workers and families she represents, the cost for such increased productivity is their health and lives.
Profit over people?
The large-scale genetically modified crop projects have been pushed through under the premise of monetary gain — something looked at as being a boost for the economy of the entire nation, and therefore the people who call it home. But to what cost does this come, and who really benefits?
Monsanto has a long history of operation in Argentina. In June of last year, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner signed an agreement with the GM giant, allowing three more factories to be built in the country, according to Gomez.
“This, regardless of this huge decision to future generations, (which) will suffer in health, and (will) mortgage the country’s economy to the vulgarities of the multinationals, with outdated legislation,” Gomez wrote to MintPress.
While Kirchner is seen as somewhat of a bulldog force for Argentina, opting recently to nationalize Argentina’s oil, taking partial control away from Spanish company YPF, it seems the same vigor doesn’t translate over to the nation’s agriculture policies.
Kirchner’s cabinet also has ties to Monsanto, with Dr. Lino Baranao, the Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, a former Monsanto employee.
In April, tobacco farmers in Argentina filed a lawsuit against Monsanto, claiming the sale of toxic pesticides to the Philip Morris and Carolina Leaf Tobacco farmers were done without proper warning and precautionary equipment. This, the farmers alleged in a 55-page document submitted to the court, caused increased rates of cerebral palsy, epilepsy, spina bifida, congenital heart defects, down syndrome, missing fingers and blindness among children.
In 2010, Earth Open Source released a report, concluding that frog and chicken embryos experienced malformations when exposed to low doses of Roundup, a chemical produced by Monsanto, and the same pesticide used by Argentinean tobacco farmers.
Dow Chemical is also another company identified by Gomez. In a description sent to MintPress, accompanied by a photo, Gomez alleges that Daniel Ortiz died following a career of spraying eucalyptus with the herbicide LONTREL, produced by Dow Chemical. In Gomez’s description, she indicated that his death certificate stated “agrochemical poisoning severe exfoliative dermatitis” as the cause of death. A copy of the death certificate could not be obtained.
“Once diluted, Mr. Ortiz, like other establishment workers, wore backpacks on their backs (with) sprayers,” Gomez told MintPress, adding that he was not given the appropriate clothing for such tasks.
The story of Ortiz sums up the concern of farmers represented by Gomez, who are looking for a regulatory system that looks to science before profit.