By Graciela Vizcay Gomez
Farmer Atilio Marques da Rosa, 76, was riding his bicycle when he felt severe dizziness and fell in front of his home in Braga, a small town of less than 4,000 inhabitants in the interior of Rio Grande do Sul.
"The dizziness came back later, and the tests showed it was cancer," says son Osmar Marques da Rosa, 55, who is also a farmer.
Attilio was diagnosed a year ago with a head tumor located between the brain and the eyes. Because of the disease, he no longer works on his small farm, which produces corn and cassava.
For him, cancer originates from contact with pesticides, chemicals used to kill insects or plants that Brazil has been a world leader in consumption since 2009.
"My father has long accused the poison business. He has never used them, but neighboring farms always spray the soybeans with airplanes and everything," says Osmar.
The northwest, where Atilio lives, is a national area with the highest pesticide use, according to a map of the USP Laboratory, drawn from the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics).
Experts who tackle the problem locally say there is no question about the link between the poison and the disease.
"Several studies indicate a relationship between the use of pesticides and cancer," says oncologist Fabio Franke, coordinator of the Center for High Complexity in Oncology (CACON) at Hospital de la Caridad de Ijuí, which serves 120 municipalities.
Glyphosate is the most widely used pesticide in the country, and manufactured by Monsanto, which rejects the relationship of use of the product with the disease.
The company says it is "one of the most widely used herbicides in the world for more than 40 years and in more than 160 countries", and that "no association of glyphosate with these diseases is supported by toxicology tests, experiments or observations" .
Sindiveg (National Union of Products for Plant Protection), which represents pesticide manufacturers, which refers to the BBC Brazil issue for Andef (National Plant Protection Association), responds mainly for them.
In a statement, Andef states that "any chemical substance synthesized in the laboratory or even those found in nature, can be considered toxic", and that the health risks depend on the exposure conditions ", which include: dose (amount of ingestion or contact), time, frequency, etc. ".
Fabio Franke, coordinator of the Center for High Complexity in Oncology (CACON) sees a direct relationship between pesticides and cancer. One of the main problems is that most workers do not follow the technical instructions for handling substances.
"We always ask if they use protection, if they use equipment. But we serve the mostly poor people. Since they entered, it costs a lot to buy masks, gloves, goggles. They are exposed," says Emilia Barcelos Nascimento, volunteer of the League Women Against Cancer Ijuí.
Anderson Scheifler, a social worker for an association (Aapecan), confirms: "We have the resumes of these people who report a history of excessive use of pesticides and, in most cases, without the use of protection."
A study carried out at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) compared the number of cancer deaths in the Ijuí micro-region with another epidemic in the state and the country between 1979 and 2003 and found that the mortality rate local surpasses both the gaucho zone, which is already high, and national.
According to the Inca (National Cancer Institute), Rio Grande do Sul is the state with the highest mortality rate from the disease. In 2013, there were 186.11 140.54 deaths of men and women, for every 100,000 inhabitants of each sex.
The index is also higher than the second classified, Paraná (137.60 men) and Rio de Janeiro (118.89 women).
The state is also a leader in estimating new cancer cases this year, also developed by Inca - 588.45 451.89 men and women for every 100 thousand people of each sex.
In 2014, 17,500 people died of cancer in Gaucho lands - in the whole country there were 195,000 deaths.
Every year about 3,600 new patients are treated in the unit coordinated by Franke. There are 23 thousand people. Of these, 22,000 are covered by the NHS (National Health System) - public coffers disburse about US $ 12 million per year for treatments.
According to the oncologist, most of the patients come from rural areas, but the problem can be even greater, since the harmful effects of pesticides are not only produced by direct exposure at work in the field, but also by through food, water and air pollution.
"If these numbers were from patients with dengue or even a simple flu, I have no doubt that the situation would be treated as the most alarming epidemic, with the public emergency decree and all. But it is cancer. There is a strange silence about this reality "says promoter Nilton Santos Kasctin, the prosecutor of the city of Catuípe.
"Thousands of people die of cancer due to pesticides," he adds, but according to Andef, "the crop protection sector shows the strictest degree of regulation in the world." More than 1,100 people died from pesticide poisoning in the country in 8 years
The commercialization of pesticides increased 155% in ten years in Brazil, indicate the Sustainable Development Indicators (IDS), a study carried out by IBGE last year - between 2002 and 2012, the use increased from 2.7 to 6.9 kilograms per hectare kilograms per hectare.
The number is alarming, especially since 64.1% of the poisons applied in 2012 are considered dangerous and 27.7% very dangerous, according to IBGE.
The Inca is one of the bodies that officially positions itself "against the current practices of pesticide use in Brazil" and "highlights the health risks, especially in the causes of cancer."
As a solution, it is recommended at the end of the aerial spraying of poisons, the tax exemption for the commercialization of organic farming products and encourages it since it does not use pesticides for growing food.
Sarpa Marcia Campos Mello, a researcher at the institute and author of the "Dossier de Abrasco - Impacts of pesticides on health", says that the most widely used pesticides in Brazil are glyphosate-based - it is sold under the name Roundup and manufactured by Monsanto.
According to her, glyphosate is linked to breast and prostate cancers and lymphoma and other genetic mutations.
"The World Health Organization (WHO) states that 80% of cancer cases are attributed to exposure to chemical agents. If pesticides are also these agents, which has already been proven, we have to reduce or ban these products completely, "he argues.
Monsanto, however, rejects the opinion. When contacted by BBC Brazil, the company claimed that glyphosate's registration in the European Union was renewed for 18 months in June.
The renovation, however, was not without controversy. The original intention was that the renovation was for 15 years. France, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands were against it. One reason is the recent classification by the Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, which has classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans."
The manufacturer claims that glyphosate is safe for health
When contacted, Monsanto stated that "the product used is registered and that glyphosate is safe for health and the environment, which has been proven by one of the largest scientific data banks already compiled on an agricultural product."
According to the Brazilian Association of Collective Health (ABRASCO), the Brazilian consumes up to 12 liters of pesticides per year.
The biologist Francesca Werner Ferreira from AIPAN (Ijuiense Association for the Protection of the Natural Environment) and professor at UNIJUI (Regional University of Rio Grande do Sul, northwestern state), warns that the situation is even worse in the northwestern gaucho, where the volume consumed can be three times higher.
She says growers in the region have abused substances to dry out crops outside of the harvest season and thereby increase production. This is the case of wheat, which receive extra doses of glyphosate, 2,4-D, a component of "agent orange", used as a chemical weapon during the Vietnam War, and paraquat.
According to promoter Nilton Santos Kasctin, this latest herbicide, paraquat, causes kidney necrosis and death of lung cells, which end in suffocation without the possibility of applying oxygen, as this could increase the effects of the substance.
"None of this is the invention of an informant, not an environmentalist or people on the left or some mad scientist who has never sunbathed. No, it is the invention of an enemy of agribusiness. You know who says everything about paraquat? own manufacturer. It is bull, the label, "says the prosecutor.
Last year, 52 people died from paraquat poisoning in Gaucho lands, according to the State Poison Control Center.
In Brazil, 1,186 deaths were caused by pesticide poisoning from 2007 to 2014, according to the coordinator of the USP Agricultural Geography Laboratory, Larissa Bombardi.
The estimate is that for every record of poisoning there are another 50 cases that are not reported, he said. The professor's research also shows that all 300 babies aged zero to one year were poisoned in the same period.
Syngenta, the maker of paraquat, did not comment on the poisoning cases and said it supports Andef's position. --Ecoportal.net