photo by Natacha Pisarenko(AP)


STORY: Argentina’s entire soybean crop and nearly all its corn and cotton have become genetically modified in the 17 years since St. Louis-based Monsanto Company promised huge yields with fewer pesticides using its patented seeds and chemicals. Instead, the agriculture ministry says agrochemical spraying has increased ninefold, from 9 million gallons in 1990 to 84 million gallons today. American biotechnology has turned Argentina into a commodities powerhouse, but the chemicals required aren’t confined to the fields, they routinely contaminate homes, classrooms and drinking water. Now a growing chorus of doctors and scientists is warning that uncontrolled spraying could be causing the health problems turning up in hospitals across the South American nation.
In this May 31, 2013 photo, girls use slingshots next to a biotech soybean plantation in Avia Terai, in Chaco province, Argentina. “Agrochemicals”


In this May 3, 2013, photo, students ride a motorbike past a field of biotech corn on their way to school in Pozo del Toba, Santiago del Estero province, Argentina.


In this Sept. 24, 2013, photo, a tractor used for spraying agrochemicals is reflected in a car’s side view mirror on a road in Parana, in Entre Rios province, Argentina. Glyphosate represents two-thirds of all agrochemicals used in Argentina, but resistance to pesticides is forcing farmers to mix in other poisons such as 2,4,D, which the U.S. military used in “Agent Orange” to defoliate jungles during the Vietnam War.


In this April 16, 2013, photo, Felix San Roman walks on his property in Rawson, in Buenos Aires province, Argentina. San Roman says that when he complained about clouds of chemicals drifting into his yard, the sprayers beat him up, fracturing his spine and knocking out his teeth. “This is a small town where nobody confronts anyone, and the authorities look the other way,” San Roman said. “All I want is for them to follow the existing law, which says you can’t do this within 1,500 meters. Nobody follows this. How can you control it?


In this May 3, 2013, photo, students stand outside their rural school in Pozo del Toba, in Santiago del Estero province, Argentina. Most Argentine provinces limit how close spraying can be done in populated areas, with setbacks ranging from as little as 50 meters to as much as several kilometers. But a news agency found many cases of soybeans planted only a few feet from homes and schools, and chemicals mixed and loaded onto tractors inside residential neighborhoods.


In this March 31, 2013, photo, Camila Veron, 2, born with multiple organ problems and severely disabled, stands outside her home in Avia Terai, in Chaco province, Argentina. Doctors told Camila’s mother, Silvia Achaval that agrochemicals may be to blame. It’s nearly impossible to prove that exposure to a specific chemical caused an individual’s cancer or birth defect, but doctors say these cases merit a rigorous government investigation. “They told me that the water made this happen, because they spray a lot of poison here,” said Achaval.


In this April 16, 2013 photo, soybeans ready for harvest are bathed in afternoon light near Rawson, in Buenos Aires province, Argentina.


In this March 31, 2013, photo, Erika, left, and her twin sister Macarena, who suffer from chronic respiratory illness, play in their backyard near recycled agrochemical containers filled with water that is used for flushing their toilet, feeding their chickens and washing their clothes, near the town of Avia Terai, in Chaco province, Argentina. The twins’ mother, Claudia Sariski, whose home has no running water, says she doesn’t let her children drink the water from the discarded pesticide containers.


In this April 1, 2013 photo, Aixa Cano, 5, who has hairy moles all over her body that doctors can’t explain, sits on a stoop outside her home in Avia Terai, in Chaco province, Argentina. Although it’s nearly impossible to prove, doctors say Aixa’s birth defect may be linked to agrochemicals. In Chaco, children are four times more likely to be born with devastating birth defects since biotechnology dramatically expanded farming in Argentina. Chemicals routinely contaminate homes, classrooms and drinking water.


In this Sept. 24, 2013 photo, students play soccer during recess at a rural school near Concepcion del Uruguay, Entre Rios province, Argentina. Teachers say the farm that abuts their school yard has been illegally sprayed with pesticides, even during class time. In Entre Rios, teachers reported that sprayers failed to respect legally required 50 meter setbacks outside 18 schools, and doused 11 of them while students were in session. Five teachers have since filed police complaints.


In this May 2, 2013 photo, empty agrochemical containers including Monsanto’s Roundup products lay discarded at a recycling center in Quimili, Santiago del Estero province, Argentina.


In this March 29, 2013, photo, former farmworker Fabian Tomasi, 47, shows the condition of his emaciated body as he stands inside his home in Basavilbaso, in Entre Rios province, Argentina. Tomasi’s job was to keep the crop dusters flying by quickly filling their tanks but he says he was never trained to handle pesticides. Now he is near death from polyneuropathy. “I prepared millions of liters of poison without any kind of protection, no gloves, masks or special clothing. I didn’t know anything. I only learned later what it did to me, after contacting scientists,” he said.