For many specialists, the use of glyphosate and other agro-chemicals is a form of exploitation that is causing catastrophes of a human and economic order. A hard battle is now being fought against it. Some countries, however, do not want to admit its toxic effects at every level. What follows is just one example of the horror it sows.
“I suffer from many progressive illnesses, walking is increasingly difficult and I have already lost all movement in my arms,” the Argentine Fabián Tomasi said some years ago. He died on 7 September from the effects of glyphosate.
He already seemed like a walking corpse and his picture moved people all over the world after he was captured through the lens of photographer Pablo Piovano.
Fabián Tomasi became a symbol of the fight against the use of herbicides. He had had to use them himself as an agricultural worker without being aware of their severe lasting effects on the body.
There are many cases like his that have yet to come out, and other victims who live in silence, including children, who have been affected by the use of these substances around the world. Argentina ranks among the countries where such herbicides are most used, in the cultivation of genetically modified produce.
In Entre Ríos, and specifically in Basavilbaso, where Tomasi is from, the lasting effects of genetically modified monoculture farming have been a host of severe pathologies among the people living in the countryside where this product is sprayed onto the plantations. Its effects on the human body are lesions, respiratory problems, hypothyroidism, cealiacs disease and many many more illnesses.
“I was a rural labourer, we would load the aeroplanes with the poison, prepare the soil, connect a hose to the plane and fill it up without using any type of protection,” Tomasi told the reporter Sebastián Salgado from the channel Hispan TV in one of his last interviews. He never imagined what he was exposing himself to.
The fumigation planes that flew in the province of Entre Ríos are the same as the ones that fly over other plantations in Latin America carrying a load of glyphosate and other agrochemicals. These are the products of multinationals like the United States company Monsanto. In Basavilbaso truly horrifying incidents have occurred such as the occasion when a light aircraft sprayed a field very close to a rural primary school. Several children presented with symptoms afterwards including vomiting.
“I believe that the world has only one problem, and that is the United States’s foreign policy. It’s the greatest issue in the world in terms of how much commotion and how many problems it causes,” Tomasi, a global icon in the fight against agrochemicals, said to the Iranian television channel.
Piovano brought Tomasi into the spotlight, immortalising him in powerful photos in 2014, where he appears thin and emaciated due to the damage caused to his body by the agrochemicals. Despite continuing his fight in the last days of his life and condemning the terrible consequences of glyphosate, he could not take any more, his body gave up and he passed away.
His case has been front page news in Argentina in recent years. Suffering from severe toxic polyneuropathy and generalised muscle atrophy, he was confined to his bed, but his heart-breaking story and above all, his poignant image, have been conserved in perpetuity by Piovano.
A few months ago, before his condition deteriorated even further, Tomasi shared his testimony with the Argentine neighbourhood publication La Garganta Poderosa where he revealed the many ways he had suffered in his job.
“From a very young age and for many years, I worked in the fields guiding the light aircraft, in direct contact with agrochemicals,” he said, and he related how his first symptoms were pains in his fingers, aggravated by the fact that he was diabetic and insulin dependent. Later, the toxic substance affected his lung capacity, he suffered pain in his elbows and white liquid seeped from his knees. “I’m scared of dying. I want to live,” Tomasi, the ex-fumigator, said at that time. He has become an icon of the fight against intensive industrial farming.
The website El Perfil specifies that the fields in this southern region were first sown with monocultures at the end of the 1990s. These crops gradually took over from the grazing of livestock. At the end of June of this year, crops covered 18 million hectares, yielding 35.8 million tons of produce and making Argentina the third biggest producer worldwide after the United States and Brazil. This fact, the publication explains, means that millions of litres of glyphosate will have been poured over the nation’s soil.
In agreement with declarations disseminated on the website El Federal, the specialist Medardo Ávila Vázquez states that in Argentina cotton is cultivated using toxic agricultural methods, with Monsanto genetically modified seeds being used and enormous quantities of toxic herbicides are applied, to cite one example.
A tough fight is now underway and many cities in Argentina have already prohibited its use. Among them is Gualeguaychú, in the same province as Entre Ríos where Tomasi died, which passed a policy prohibiting the use, sale and marketing of the herbicide glyphosate, which plays a key role in the production of genetically modified soya.
However, much still remains to be done, not only in this southern region but in the whole of Latin America, so that cases like Tomasi’s are not repeated and nor are the cases of so many other men and women who have uprooted their lives to work in loading and pumping areas of fumigation companies where a great quantity of agrochemicals are used. (PL)
(Translated by Elizabeth Dann – firstname.lastname@example.org)