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Glyphosate, endosulfan, paraquat, 2,4 D, dicamba, pyrethroids, phosphates, etc., all members of a list of hundreds of substances used in agriculture, are POISONS. Some kill vegetables, some kill animals, some kill fungi, and most kill many more organisms than the label says, but all KILL, that's what they were designed and built for.
For several weeks, we have been seeing the way in which agricultural spraying and its perceptible and imperceptible consequences on human communities, Nature and the agricultural systems themselves, are subjected to a growing value judgment by different sectors of society. Despite the fact that some see a political use of this issue and beyond a certain truth in this reading, we also see that, after 5 years, the GRR's "Stop Fumigating" campaign is beginning to reap its fruits, and the most important of all is that many citizens are slowly beginning to add their concerns and questions to those of thousands of people affected in the interior of the country, due to the impacts of the production model.
As often happens in the universe of chemical substances and their environmental and health ramifications, the so-called "scientific knowledge" appears to us as the great mediator in the matter, a knowledge that is owned only by certain privileged individuals, whose opinion cannot be in doubt in the current context of hypertechnological devotion and increasing fragmentation of knowledge. Thus we find ourselves in that way, with the Minister of Science and Technology himself, who, beyond his corporate loyalties, disqualifies Dr. Andrés Carrasco's research, saying that "CONICET does not endorse it", appealing to this "principle of authority ”of the new academic religion called“ science ”, and himself as high priest of the“ knowledge society ”, which seeks to annul our own experiential experience as living beings and as human beings, in order to bend our opinion in virtue of the dominant scientific-technological creed.
In accordance with the words of the Minister, many parliamentarians, candidates and journalists also appeal to the need to deepen the investigation and to scientifically plan agriculture, so as not to continue “demonizing” soy and its pesticide package, which are in definitively, and according to metaphors more or less expressed by the media, that "that feeds us." (Will those who say it, we wonder, really eat that?). In this line of thought, a joint study by the Faculties of Agronomy and Pharmacy and Biochemistry was recently announced to establish the possible impacts of the agricultural model on the health of populations, and the results of which will surely serve to "optimize" the use of pesticides . In the convulsed and confused scenario of the current Argentine reality, the statements of producers, fumigators, jurists, officials, social leaders, and even concerned neighbors, all clamoring for more information on pesticides, more toxicological investigations, plus epidemiological evaluations, etc. These claims are not bad at all, for a country that long ago was abandoned to the market regime, and in which the minimum considerations on environment, security and Food Sovereignty, health and public education, seem anachronisms typical of a welfare state in true, utopian.
We must know, however, that the scientific research that is claimed on pesticides will only allow solutions to be found within the established regime, that is, they will in any case be new technological recipes to solve the problems caused by the old technological recipes. No more than that. Leaving this discussion only in the hands of scientists and specialists, obscures the basic principles of our free will, based on broad considerations of an experiential order and not only based on reason, especially when that "reason" is reasoned by others. The important thing is: What can each person contribute to this discussion from their life experience? How is it possible that we cannot comment on something that affects living beings, being that we are living beings?
Here we must clarify that both glyphosate, endosulfan, paraquat, 2,4 D, dicamba, pyrethroids, phosphorous, etc., all members of a list of hundreds of substances used in agriculture, and approved in their use by SENASA, they are POISONS. Some kill vegetables, some kill animals, some kill fungi, and most kill many more organisms than the label says, but all KILL, that's what they were designed and built for. In agricultural fields these substances are released to KILL, not to cure, or to improve, as they try to hide the terms of "remedy" or "Phytosanitary" with which they mask them and with which companies, the government, producers and the technicians filled and are filling pages and pages of articles sponsored by INTA and by large companies. On the other hand, most of the studies in toxicology deal with somatic effects in relation to the amounts of poison. That is, as a rule, they seek to answer the question about what is the minimum amount of poison from which quantifiable somatic effects can be observed, and capable of being statistically evaluated. In other words, they seek to make the effects of the poisons they analyze “visible”. Studies cannot go beyond that, and their conceptual framework is that the substances analyzed are released in certain quantities into the environment, and they behave in this or that way. Therefore, it can be assumed what is the amount that could naturally enter an organism, and from there they seek to know if that quantity could produce some unwanted effect on an organism. Faced with these false debates, because they take for granted the inexistence of other alternatives, we must take two things into account. One of them is that this discussion is not about the need or not to release poisons into the environment, it is not discussed whether they should be released or not, but in what quantity. The other is that the fact that no unwanted effects are found does not mean that they do not occur. These consequences or sequelae may occur at levels of organization that are not being evaluated, or they may initiate processes of change that will manifest somatically in a given future. There are too many disastrous examples in the last 60 years, about substances that were initially considered harmless, until it was shown that their effects were simply terrible, and that they would also last forever in the global metabolic processes of the planet. Rachel Carson's book Our Stolen Future, http://www.webislam.com/?idt=6773, exemplifies a few cases.
Knowing these historical cases, however, did not prevent their consequences or prevent the same sequences from being repeated over and over again. Although this knowledge led at the time to the prohibition of some substances, they did not generate a deep discussion about the need or convenience of continuing to incorporate synthetic chemistry into our lives. By the time "Our Stolen Future" was published, it was already known that each newborn comes into the world with more than 300 synthetic chemical substances incorporated, that is, artificial substances manufactured by humans through their chemical industries and released into the environment, substances that of course should not be in the body of a newborn. And this happens due to some peculiarities of both chemical substances and the mechanisms through which our body interacts with the environment. We all know when a piece of meat is rotten, or a meal is spoiled. We don't need a scientific opinion to decide on that. What's more, no scientist, with any argument, could twist our decision not to consume a food that we consider to be in bad condition. Perceiving that a food is in bad condition is a way we have to protect ourselves. Any living being "knows" this, even scientists. It is a kind of "biological precautionary principle" that ensures the survival of the organism. But poisons represent something else, they are something for which our senses are not prepared. There are poisons that we cannot see, smell, or taste.
So we are not prepared nor do we have established defenses in the long process of evolution, to "defend" ourselves from these synthetic substances that are not "visible" to our senses, and we depend on what someone called a scientist, toxicologist or specialist tells us, doing use of an "authority principle", based on studies on quantities and not on qualities. In other words, if there are poisons in the environment we are helpless. We are defenseless in principle, because we cannot perceive them, but also, because as living beings our organisms are not indifferent to the presence of these poisons. Our physiological warning and purification systems do not work with many of these substances, they are not designed to discover a danger in them, and this is so, because our organisms did not evolve with these substances, simply because they did not exist naturally in the environment, they are products of the human industry of the last decades. We are also defenseless, because we are not informed about the risks we run both from direct exposure to these substances, and from being members of ecosystems that are being poisoned, and on which we depend to inhabit them and to feed ourselves and survive.
Now, do we need new scientific studies to show that agricultural poisons affect living things? Do we need the University of Buenos Aires to scientifically investigate the impacts of the production model in order to be able to know them and give it credibility? This question could be minimized by the inhabitants of large cities, because a certain logic would indicate that these problems are unique to rural inhabitants. But this is a huge misconception. All the food we eat comes from the countryside, and sadly, only a minority did not receive poison treatments. This is the stark truth. The use of pesticides is not an attribute only of the large soybean agribusinesses, but also the majority of small farmers who produce vegetables and vegetables use agricultural poisons, which often reach our plates. Of course, sometimes what arrives is little, and is within the supposed "accepted margins" that scientists indicate. In other words, the amount of pesticide residues they contain would not produce, according to scientists, obvious effects on humans. But the truth is that the prevailing food production model in Argentina is addicted to pesticides, and only "organic" or "natural" producers dispense with them.
Here we have two questions to ask ourselves: one of them is, do we want to consume pesticides? And the other is a question related to scientific knowledge, it is a question about the quantities of things and not their qualities: If we accept to consume food produced with pesticides, how much poison are we willing to carry in our blood? Is it okay for us to consume poisons within "safety margins" or, if we had the chance, would we decide that "nothing" is the best amount?
Normally these questions to the use of pesticides are attributed to people who are accused of opposing the development of agriculture. Agribusiness and its henchmen hold the shameful lie that it is impossible to increase or maintain production without resorting to these poisons, that agriculture for the world to come is impossible without them. Although this fallacy has been refuted hundreds of times, the truth is that for 5 decades hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested in research in agricultural chemistry and a few coins in research on natural agriculture. We as GRR love food production, as well as agriculture, because it gives us life, and because we love it we are trying to protect it.
We firmly believe that industrial agriculture is not going to survive all the poisons used in it. An agriculture that does not respect the life of the farmer or respect the life of the soil, hardly survives itself. Is an agriculture that intoxicates and kills neighboring inhabitants and threatens ecosystems at the service of man? The agriculture of the future, if there is any future, will not be able to depend on fossil fuels or chemical inputs. In that future, scientists should resume their humanistic tradition, behave as good neighbors, and treat ecosystems with the respect that they treat their own family.
The next agriculture will inevitably be very similar to the old agriculture of our grandparents, more than to the recent mining and extractive tradition of agribusiness.
However, also for this the Minister of Science and Technology has a comment.
The Minister has had the audacity to affirm that organic agriculture has caused more deaths than industrial agriculture. We can hardly find a more foolish or scandalous statement than this in the scientific establishment. Because if the Minister said this to protect glyphosate and agribusiness, he should support his statements with a criminal complaint against the alleged organic murderers who produced these deaths. And if he said it only to “chicanear”, he should be subjected to an interpellation by the public powers, for affirming falsehoods from his position of scientific and technological authority of the Nation, falsehoods that threaten a large number of organic and natural farmers of our country. But what happens with the Minister is, unfortunately, that his fundamentalist vision of scientific and technological progress comes from a "consumer education", in which it is repeated every day until we are tired, that we will be better people the more technology we consume. Although in the case of the Minister we could suspect other more earthly motivations for his sayings, the truth is that technological advances are viewed with an almost pathological naivety, with irrational optimism, with unfortunately suicidal acceptance. We lose sight of the fact that current agriculture does not produce food to supply the population, but rather produces marketable goods to supply an economy that postulates infinite growth, something impossible in a finite world and limited to ecological legalities, in the medium term, impossible to evade.
Returning to the case of glyphosate, the contributions of new scientific studies on its effects will not prevent the consequences of the impacts already produced by this herbicide, happily approved by SENASA, as well as hundreds of other substances, on populations and ecosystems. . Furthermore, many of these contributions will be of such a nature that they will not allow making correct decisions about this product and its handling in the field. Furthermore, there is always the possibility of banning a substance or re-categorizing it, while another is approved for the same purposes, but which is not yet “demonized”. What is certain is that more research will not contribute at all to making human beings safer, in a country in which 200,000 tons of agricultural poisons are released every year. The real discussion behind glyphosate does not refer to taxes for export duties, nor to the responsibilities externalized by companies towards users under the notion of “misuse”, nor to a political move, as part of a virulent campaign electoral. In any case, it is a matter of putting on the bench the same notion of economic growth, technological dependence and waste of fossil energies, which are already plunging us into deeper obscurity than those of the Middle Ages. Likewise, the discussion around glyphosate opens us to the much more essential discussion regarding the role of science and technology in our lives.
Meanwhile, the defense systems of organisms will continue to be evolutionarily maladjusted for such new chemicals. For this reason, living organisms will continue without "biological precautionary principles" that protect us from toxic substances that we cannot adequately perceive or metabolize. But it is not necessarily the same with justice. The ideal of the "Precautionary Principle" aims precisely at defending society and its environment from possible long-term effects, the consequences of which are impossible to know in advance. When the evidence is not sufficient, it would be appropriate to apply this principle or these precautionary rights. This is what Argentina has committed itself at the international level to do. Scientists are important to make those evidences visible, as long as their activity is guided from their condition of neighbor (human being) and not from their condition of mere cog in the market machinery. Today, the government may forget the recent debates and the front pages about glyphosate and in the face of the need to reach certain agreements, withholdings are reduced. The worrying thing is that those who today call themselves "the field" and could well call themselves the defenders of glyphosate, will join forces to consider the most used agrotoxic in Argentina as a "national cause" and to whom, like the GRR we are pointing out "The glyphocide" for 10 years, as "inveterate Luddites." What happened with influenza A –which perhaps one day we will find out that something had to do with the pesticides used by the agribusiness model– is a demonstration that in our country "precautionary" is not a cultivated virtue, much less the principles that correspond to them.
Will Argentine justice have its perceptual system healthy enough to warn that diffuse or incomplete evidence should trigger the precautionary principle? If this does not happen, and without the intention of generating a "collective psychosis", it is time that the judges of the Court, together with all the citizens of the Argentine country, begin to ask ourselves how much poison are we willing to continue carrying in the blood? Since our response as GRR is nothing at all ...
GRR Rural Reflection Group - July 2009