Brazilian microcephaly not caused by Zika but by pesticides
Brazil has been hit by a fast increase in microcephaly, a congenital malformation in which babies are born with an abnormally small head and brain. There had been about 150 reported cases of this condition in 2014, but in 2015, the number reached 3893 and set off a nationwide scare. One of the most severely affected areas of Brazil is the State of Pernambuco where about one third of the cases nationwide have been reported. That is the area where the first cases were established, and then neighbouring states such as Bahia and Paraiba also began reporting cases, and finally it was the whole country, although many cases are still concentrated in the Northeast. These cases are quickly been linked to the outbreak of the Zika virus that also originated in Brazil. However, this view is being more and more questioned, as there is still no scientific proof that the virus is responsible for the microcephaly and as more and more voices point out that the very pesticides used to kill the mosquitoes that transmit the virus may be the source of the malformations or at least a contributing factor.
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There has indeed been a very strong narrative establishing a link between the Zika virus outbreak and the increase of the Microcephaly cases in Brazil. Actually, there is a lot of information that can cast doubt on this narrative. For instance, the Brazilian Association for Collective Health (ABRASCO) pointed out in a letter that past Zika outbreaks in the Pacific and other current terrains like Colombia, where the virus is active, had no cases of microcephaly, and that there was nothing to explain the difference between the Zika virus cases in Brazil and the cases in the Pacific or in Colombia. Therefore, other factors had to be at play to explain the Microcephaly. Indeed, according to the Physicians in the Crop-Sprayed Towns (PCST), an Argentinian doctors' association, some past outbreaks of Zika have infected up to 75 % of the population of the hit areas, but didn't result in any microcephaly case. It seems really hard to believe that a virus directly responsible for numerous cases of microcephaly in Brazil would cause zero case in other countries. I mean, how anti-Brazilian can a virus be ? The lack of clear causality was clear in Brazil as well, as the New York Times reported on February 3rd : “Of all the cases examined so far, 404 have been confirmed as having microcephaly. Only 17 of them tested positive for the Zika virus”. This is a very small proportion and although it's hard to say for sure that the Zika virus played no part in the microcephaly of these 17 babies, it's safe to say it can't be the only factor and it’s probably not the most significant one. Another meaningful item in this issue it that the World Health Organization has been very careful not to confirm this narrative directly and has merely stated that the Zika virus was a probable explanation for the increase of microcephaly cases but that the causality wasn't proven.
A narrative designed to boost Monsanto’s profit[edit | edit source]
One of this narrative's purpose is quite clear: the Zika virusis a great economic opportunity for pesticide companies. They have everythingto gain if the public believes that the Zika virus can cause Microcephalybecause then the public will be ready to accept heavy use of pesticides to killthe mosquitoes that carry the virus. Therefore public fear should be fosteredand fostered it was. A consensus emerged even though no scientific proof wasavailable to back this idea. This consensus was reflected by the statement ofBrazil's health minister, Marcelo Castro, who said that there was a “100 %certainty” that the Zikavirus caused the microcephaly. And the way out of the crisis was therefore veryclear: purchase the pesticide necessary to tackle the mosquito populationresponsible for the contamination. The pesticide were bought from SumimotoChemical, who is a Japanese subsidiary of … Monsanto ! The fact that theBrazilian government supports Monsanto's interests is not a big surprise forAbrasco, who condemns the tight integration of the chemical industry into theBrazilian ministry for health and into several regional organisations. Now thereally twisted part of the story is that not only can we doubt the need to usethese chemicals against the virus in order to solve the microcephaly issue, butthere is also serious cause to believe that the chemicals themselves may besetting off the microcephaly cases or at least making them worse.
A strong correlation between insecticide use and microcephaly cases[edit | edit source]
The Zika virus is not the only possible cause that couldexplain the increase of microcephaly cases, the other cause may the very thingthat Brazilians are told would save them, pesticides. PCST reported that in 2014, the state ofPernambuco had added pyriproxufen to the drinking water reservoirs in order todecimate the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carried the Zika virus. Pyriproxyfenis a larvicide, it alters the development process of the mosquitoes whichgenerally kills them or generates severe malformations that disable them. “Itacts as an insect juvenile hormone or juvenoid, and has the effect ofinhibiting the development of adult insect characteristics (for example, wingsand mature external genitalia) and reproductive development. It is an endocrinedisruptor and is teratogenic (causes birth defects).” What could be the effectof this chemical on human beings ? “Malformations detected in thousands ofchildren from pregnant women living in areas where the Brazilian state addedpyriproxyfen to drinking water is not a coincidence” says PCST. Abrasco'sreport denounced the serious flaws in the way the larvicides were used becauseit resulted in a widespread pollution of the environment, instead of targetingthe mosquitoes directly. And Abrasco insists that the chemical was actually notvery efficient in reducing the Aedes aegypti mosquito population. However,while PCST and Abrasco don't claim that the pyriproxyfen in itself was enoughto trigger the microcephaly cases, their hypothesis is rather that thechemical's effect was an addition to the accumulated effect of years of usingchemicals in Brazilian agriculture. Indeed, many toxic chemicals have been usedin Brazilian agriculture, especially in the Northeast that is so hardly hit bythe microcephaly cases. For instance, paraquat, a substance classified as“highly poisonous” and banned in the United States, is still heavily used inBrazil and in particular in the Northeast. A very likely explanation is thatthe cumulative effect of these chemicals is today responsible for themicrocephaly. Besides, exposure to pesticides can result in other effects thatare likely to be set off in the upcoming years, these effects include asthmaand allergies, memory loss, loss of motor skills and coordination, cancer,reproductive disorders, hormone disruption... It's quite striking that thegovernment seeks to address a public health problem that could very well stemfrom the use of chemicals by using more chemicals.
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Fortunately, the cries of alarm of many groups are starting tobe heard. The State of Rio Grande do Sul has declared that the use pyriproxyfenwould be suspended temporarily, as the chemical might have a part in themicrocephaly condition. The Health secretary of the state, Joao Gabardo, statedthat the “suspicion” of a link between the larvicide and the microcephaly wasto big a risk to take, “We cannot take that risk”, he said. And theState authorities subsequently instructed local government to enforce thesuspension of pyriproxyfen. This brought about a fierce debate with centralgovernment. Marcelo Castro answered quite strongly : « That is a rumor lackinglogic and sense ». And he was naturally joined in his uproar by thecorporations behind the larvicide. In a statement to Fox News Latino, SumimotoChemical energetically denied the link between their product and themalformations : “There is no scientific basis for such a claim”. And Monsantoadded its voice to the fray on Saturday February 14th, to correctthe “misinformation and rumors on social media.” However Monsanto was also verycareful to distance itself from Sumimoto in its post : “Monsanto does notmanufacture or sell Pyriproxyfen. Monsanto does not own Sumitomo Company”.
The microcephaly spike in Brazil has been hastily explained bythe Zika virus, which was very convenient for corporations like Monsantobecause it legitimized the use of chemicals to kill off the mosquitoes thatcarry the virus. However, this explanation has been questioned by environmentand health defense groups, and instead, they have pointed out that the verychemicals that have been presented as the cure might actually be at the root ofthe problem. Their voice has begun to convince officials in local governmentthat there was something wrong with the official narrative. They must be supportedbecause Monsanto and the central government its tangled with will do everythingthey can to keep this juicy deal going on. Spread the word so that moreBrazilian states join Rio Grande do Sul in saying no to toxic chemicals andprotecting their citizens from the greed of big corporations.