Aixa Cano was described in a recent AP article as a shy, 5-year old girl from Chaco, a poor farming province in northern Argentina. What makes her different than most 5-year old girls is that Aixa was born with hairy moles all over her body. She fared better than her neighbor, Camila, a 2-year old girl born with multiple organ problems. Doctors, who cannot explain Aixa’s condition, say her birth defect may be linked to agrochemicals. The Argentine national government must hold itself responsible to protect the health of children born in rural areas. Agrochemical use in Argentina has increased greatly according to the AP report, increasing from 9 million gallons in 1990 to 84 million gallons today. While it has led to a huge growth in agricultural production, rates of cancer and birth defects have increased dramatically in Argentina’s rural farming communities. In Aixa’s home province of Chaco, regional birth reports given by the AP show congenital birth defects soaring from 19.1 to 85.3 cases per 10,000 people in the decade after genetically modified seeds and their partner agrochemicals were approved in Argentina.
So if we were to assume an excessive use of agrochemicals leads to birth defects in children like Aixa, who is responsible for their misuse? Farmers and agrochemical companies, whether we like it or not, work to make money and not improve public health. If farmers don’t spray enough chemicals and their crop decreases, they lose money. Regarding the local government, while they should be out to protect public health, this mission can often be lost in the cause of economic development, which in rural communities often comes from agriculture. Thus, in my opinion the Argentine national government is at fault. The national government, while still influenced by the agriculture industry, is more able to resolve the problem than rural provincial governments because it is more isolated from agriculture’s impact considering the diversity of the national economy.
To remedy the problem, there are three things that I believe the Argentine national government can do better. First, it should change agrochemical regulation standards from being made at a provincial level to a national level. This will create clearer standards, and avoid undue influence by industry in poor provinces that depend highly on agriculture. Second, the national government should complete the work of the presidential commission formed in 2009 to study agrochemicals and health. They can do this by properly funding programs to fortify local government monitoring of agrochemical application, along with programs to educate farming communities on proper agrochemical use and application. Finally, the government should listen to its constituents and fund studies to investigate the potential health effects of agrochemical use.