Pesticide Treated Seeds Cause Disaster in Paraguay

Last November, Delta & Pine Paraguay dumped 30 thousand sacks of expired cottonseed - 660 tons - in the area of Rincón-i-Ybycuí, a rural community 120 kilometres from the capital Asunción. The seeds were treated with high concentrations of toxic pesticides, including the organophosphates acephate and chlorpyrifos. Organophosphates are powerful poisons which attack the central nervous system. The label on the seed sacks states that the acephate chemical compound (trade name: Orthene 80 Seed Protectant) "contains material which may cause cancer, mutagenic or reproductive effects based on laboratory animal data. Risk of cancer depends on duration and level of exposure." This toxic cocktail, extending over one-and-a-half hectares, was covered with only a thin layer of soil. The disposal site is on private land in the center of a rural population of three thousand, less than 170 meters from a primary school with 262 pupils.

Health problems were immediately reported. The well-known symptoms of pesticide poisoning - vertigo, nausea, headaches, neurological disorders, memory loss, insomnia and skin rashes - appeared immediately, and worsened as the first rains brought with them a malevolent odor which hung over the area. Instead of water, toxic sludge oozed from the wells and pumps.

The poison claimed its first victim on December 28, the day of the death of Agustín Ruiz Aranda. Ruiz Aranda had been active in the Commission for the Defense of the Environment and Human Rights formed by the local community to draw attention to the dumping and demand government action. His official death certificate states that he was treated by the attending physician for "acute poisoning due to pollution caused by toxins of the Delta & Pine Land seed deposited on the property of Julio Chávez…" In May, his widow told the IUF that "On December 26 my husband attended what would be his last meeting with the Commission. He felt very ill. On December 27 he could no longer get up from his bed. We did not have a single guarani (Paraguayan currency) to buy medicine, much less to get to the city. On Monday noon he lost the capacity to speak. When he died, his flesh was like a wet, twisted rag stuck to the bone." Thirty years old at the time of his death, Mr. Ruiz left behind five children.

Medical testing of the residents has produced irrefutable evidence of acute pesticide poisoning. The Ministries of Agriculture and of Public Health have acknowledged the results of the tests but have not taken action. The Ministry of Education has refused support for the school organized by the villagers when it became necessary to abandon the polluted schoolgrounds. The IUF has met with the Minister of Health and the president of Paraguay, and has helped to organize demonstrations and support for the victims of the contamination. Still, the government refuses to act, despite the publication of no less than 45 articles on the situation in Ybycuí in the nation's largest circulation newspaper Diario Noticias.

In August, the case will be the subject of an inquiry in Asunción organized by the Ethical Tribunal against Impunity in Paraguay with the support of the Latin American Regional Secretariat of the IUF. The Ethical Tribunal is well known for its work in defense of the victims of the Stroessner dictatorship and for its discovery, in 1992, of the dictator's "Archive of Terror" which documented the coordinated police operation of the Southern Cone dictatorships known as "Operation Condor."

Rincón-i-Ybycuí is a poor, isolated part of the country where life has always been difficult for the population of small producers of manioc, fruits and vegetables. Delta & Pine Land has chosen this neglected corner of the world to dump its poisonous waste. The company must now face the consequences of its disregard for human life and the environment. The IUF is demanding:

Immediate action to remove the toxic seed and decontaminate the area;

Immediate and comprehensive medical treatment for the victims;

A program of long-term medical and environmental surveillance, including regular monitoring of water supplies;

Adequate compensation for the victims, their families, and the wider community.

The company must also make a full and public disclosure of the circumstances surrounding the dumping. The thirty thousand seeds buried in Ybycuí were part of a larger shipment of 84 thousand bags of Delta & Pine Land cotton seeds authorized for importation by the Paraguayan Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock in 1997 after the ministry had imported sufficient seed for the 1997-98 planting season. Where is the rest of the seed? Has it also been similarly dumped on unsuspecting communities? Were the seeds already past their expiry date at the time of export from the United States, i.e. were they exported with the intention of dumping as an alternative to the more costly methods of controlled waste destruction required by US law? Answers to these questions are urgently necessary if more disasters are to be avoided.

Delta & Pine Land Co. is in the process of merging with the agro-chemical, seed and biotechnology giant Monsanto. Delta & Pine Land jointly holds the patent rights, and the exclusive licensing rights, to the notorious "Terminator" technology, a technique of genetic modification which ensures that seeds will not germinate if planted a second time. The Terminator patents are designed to ensure that farmers will not be able to save their seed, as they have done for thousands of years, but will instead be totally dependent on Monsanto to plant their crops. The Terminator has been described by farmers' organizations, trade unions, and consumer and environmental groups as an unprecedented threat to food security and bio-diversity. The IUF supports the international campaigns to have this dangerous technology banned from commercial production.

Monsanto (corporate slogan "Food-Health-Hope") claims to be advancing food production and sustainability and creating "new possibilities for better nutrition and health". The company's history as a major corporate polluter raises serious doubts about these claims. In 1995, Monsanto was named in the US Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory as having released 37 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the environment. Monsanto is indelibly linked to the environmental disasters of Times Beach, Missouri, a town so thoroughly polluted with Monsanto dioxin that its entire population had to be evacuated, and the poisoning of Vietnam with the defoliant "Agent Orange". With the proposed merger with Delta & Pine Land, Monsanto will be able to add the poisoning of Rincón-i-Ybycuí, Paraguay to its history of corporate abuse of the environment.

Monsanto does not stand alone. Pesticide Action Network lists the top 5 "gene giants" as Astra Zeneca, DuPont, Monsanto, Novartis, and Aventis. Together, these companies account for two-thirds of the global pesticide market (60%), about one-quarter (23%) of the global seed market, and virtually 100% of the transgenic seed market. We hold all of these companies responsible for essentially burying land mines along the path of evolution--- for daring to tread where Nature herself has never gone---- in order to ultimately control world food sales.

However, we would especially like to thanks Monsanto for being at the forefront of disassembling the building blocks of life.

Thank you, Monsanto
* for corrupting the trust of innocent people who know nothing of seed and species patenting;
* for introducing altered genes into young, developing bodies;
* for teaching us that the earth is just a mechanism to exploit;
* for disregarding the rights of all species in your pursuit of genetic dominance; for unraveling the food chain and for spitting in the face of millions of years of evolution.

"We the people" of the U.S. must join with our global family to boycott ge (genetically engineered) food, and reclaim our earth from those who are squandering her for profit.

The only solution to the problems of working people consists in a radical break with capitalism--that diseased and decaying system that threatens the very future of humanity--and its replacement with a new social order, based on a rational and democratic system of planning, that is the real condition for the emancipation of the human race: WORLD SOCIALISM.

USA October 19, 1999

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