Monsanto's Roundup responsible for kidney disease epidemic in the Global South
A mysterious kidney disease epidemic has been going on for several years in several South American and Asian countries. This disease mostly kills adult men : in El Salvador, 20,000 men have died because of it and the death rate is staggering, 2,500 men die every year from this unexplained and yet lethal condition. And it's becoming clearer and clearer that one of the factors that trigger the disease is exposure to Monsanto's Roundup and other agrichemicals, as the victims are all field workers. The science is gradually working out the link between Roundup and the disease and consequently, governments that are hit by the disease have started to ban Roundup. But Monsanto is fighting them every step of the way in order to protect its profits, although men are dying by the thousands because of them.
Scientific studies indicate that Roundup is a contributing factor to the kidney disease[edit | edit source]
The disease has been called “chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology” (CKDu) because its official causes have not been officially discovered yet. However, an increasing amount of scientific evidence is pointing to Roundup and the chemicals it uses to kill weeds in crops. The main clue is the profile of the victims. While usually, older patients suffer from chronic kidney disease, the men who are getting CKDu are young and they work outdoors, in the fields. In Central America, the victims work in sugarcane plantations, in Sri Lanka and India, they grow rice. They all have in common that they are exposed to enormous amounts of Roundup which Monsanto sells for a huge profit in these countries.
This is what Channa Jayasumana found and presented in the paper he co-authored in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. According to him, glyphosate, the chemical used to make Roundup, is very likely to be a factor in CKDu : "Results being produced through the current study that is ongoing in the California State University, Long Beach are highly supportive of this hypothesis", he said. However, Monsanto has rejected these findings energetically. Not only did Monsanto maintain its product Roundup although more and more clues point to its toxicity, but it didn't recommend any caution in using the herbicide, hammering that it was perfectly safe. This is downright criminal because all the farmers that believed that lie exposed themselves to the adverse effects of Roundup and ended up developing diseases that could easily have been prevented or at least alleviated had they been warned about its potential danger. And it's still going on in many countries, although some have decided to take the decision that makes the most sense : ban Roundup.
El Salvador was the first country to ban glyphosate, against heavy lobbying[edit | edit source]
These alarming studies have driven the Salvadoran government to ban many agrochemicals, including Roundup, but the lobbies fought tooth and nail to prevent the implementation of the ban. We have already described the shocking death toll of CKDu in El Salvador. When the disease became the second cause of death for adult men, the government couldn't wait anymore and acted. In April 2013, the Salvadoran government announced its intent to ban chemicals that were heavily used in agriculture, such as paraquat and glyphosate. This infuriated agribusiness companies that realized a juicy market would be slipping away if they did nothing. They used a lot of fearmongering to dissuade the MPs from supporting the bill. For instance, Croplife (the lobby that brings together all the ugly agribusiness companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, BASF or Dupont) ominously warned that banning these chemicals could cause a 60 % loss in production. Where they got that figure from nobody knows, but it's good to know that once people have stopped buying their dirty chemicals they can turn to the business of selling crystal balls instead.
The lobbying also reached out to opposition parties like the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista. This is not a big surprise because this party has always defended private property against farmers rights. Mario Ponce, of that party claimed that the law would be detrimental to agriculture : “We would be giving a very severe blow to all of agriculture.” How could preserving the health of farmers be a blow to agriculture ? This is a clear proof that Monsanto and its little friends are constantly trying to protect their own financial interest and don't care about the health of Salvadoran farmers. Nor do they feel Salvadorans have the right to make their own decisions without their weighing in on the vote. Dr. Carlos Orantes, the director of El Salvador’s national research program summed it up pretty well : “Here there is a struggle between toxicity and profitability”. However, the Salvadoran MPs weren't convinced and they did the right thing. In September 2013, the Salvadoran Parliament voted to ban 53 chemicals including paraquat and glyphosate. El Salvador was the first to say no to the poisonous agrichemicals of Monsanto and its lot.
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El Salvador's vote against agrichemicals had opened the way and other countries like Sri Lanka followed. Indeed Sri Lankans have been bled by CKDu : there are currently 400,000 patients suffering from the conditions and the death toll has reached 20,000. In the North of the country, 15 % of the active population has the disease, which is a tremendous proportion. Another study by Doctor Jayasumana estimated that the Sri Lankans who drank water from abandoned wells where there was a high concentration of glyphosate increased their likelihood of contracting CKDu five-fold.
This drove the Sri Lankan government to do the only thing it could do to protect its citizens, ban Roundup. This decision was made in March 2014 but it wasn't implemented at first because Monsanto and other major agribusiness corporations tried to lobby against it. For instance they used the European Glyphosate Task Force (GTF) to state that glyphosate had not been proven unsafe and that CKDu was very likely to be caused by other factors. Through this lobby, Monsanto, Syngenta and other agrochemical giants basically claimed that until their herbicide has been proven to be dangerous, it shouldn't be banned. These companies were asking for the benefit of the doubt, but that means treating the farmers and agricultural workers as lab rats whereas they are the ones that should be protected until every doubt is dissipated. Monsanto’s dishonest strategy worked and the banning decision was overturned in May 2014. Fortunately for Sri Lankan farmers, the presidential election of 2015 broke the stalemate and the newly elected president Maithripala Sirisena, announced in May 2015 that he decided a new ban that became effective immediately. This goes to show that democratic forces can win against corporate greed and that citizens must rally to make governments say no to criminal corporations like Monsanto.