Tuesday, 01 February 2022 18:25

Agricultural pesticide use in Argentina: The extent, the risks, and the challenges Featured

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Argentina is the only non-European case study site included in SPRINT. We included Argentina in our project because it is the main exporter of soy for animal feed in Europe. In addition, this allows us to compare our findings in Europe against those in South America, where pesticides are often applied more frequently and in greater volumes. Argentina, our chosen case study, is the third biggest pesticide user in the world, with only China and the US using more. In addition, several of the pesticides used in Argentina are no longer approved for use across the EU, so this case study will provide insights into the risks of imported chemicals. This article provides an overview of farming in Argentina before examining the extent of pesticide reliance and the potential risks of current usage.

Agriculture in Argentina

Argentina, a major exporter of cereals and oilseed crops, relies heavily on intensive crop production. It is the world’s largest producer of vegetable oil and has one of the highest yields in the world for soy, corn and wheat. Upholding these achievements has led to increased reliance on chemicals.

In last 40 years, the cropped area in Argentina has more than doubled, with crop protection increasing by five-fold in that time. Argentinian soybean production has accelerated to an extent where it went from being almost unheard of (68,000ha, 1972) to become a major crop, with current projections expecting Argentina to produce 49.5 million tonnes of soy in 2021-2022. This is due to export demand for soy-based biofuel and oils. Argentina has also become the second-largest exporter of maize in the world, with production increasing from 5.8 million tonnes/year in 1972 to 21 million tonnes in 2012 (FAOSTAT, 2014). More than 80% of maize grown here is used for animal feed. Livestock production, meanwhile, has become increasingly marginalised, largely carried out within rural pockets of land as it is no longer the most lucrative farming system.

Pesticide use in Argentina

Pesticide use in Argentina consists mostly of herbicides, used to control weeds (see below). The most frequently used pesticides in Argentina include glyphosate, 2,4-D, atrazine, metolachlor, acetochlor, alachlor, diclosulán, dicamba, metsulfuron-methyl, chlorimuron, chlorpyrifos, imidacloprid, tebuconazole, and metribuzin. Despite research finding that certain pesticides including atrazine, acetochlor, imidacloprid and glyphosate threaten environmental and human health, there are no restrictions on their use in Argentina. There is some progress with other pesticides, with chloropyrifos-based pesticides set to be prohibited from 2023 due to its toxicity to humans and the environment.

Broad types of pesticides used in Argentina (data from Kleffmann group, 2012).

sprint argentina graph

Environmental risks associated with Argentinian pesticide use

Pesticides in the environment are concerning because they are often persistent  and can enter and accumulate along the food chain. As they undergo this ‘biomagnification’ process, they become highly concentrated and more damaging to health, both in humans and animals.

It appears that several pesticides are present in the environment; for example, a study found that atrazine was broadly ubiquitous across many rivers and lakes in Argentina. The FAO has identified soil contamination as a substantial threat to the environment. Research by INTA, who are involved in the SPRINT project, found that 74% of soils and 23% of sediments within surface watercourses exceeded 0.1ppm; levels above this are expected to have a detrimental impact on the trophic chain.

Human health concerns associated with pesticide use

Rural Argentinian inhabitants have, in recent years, campaigned against the use of pesticides next to their homes due to their proven/likely/... associations with birth defects. Some readers may remember the story of Aixa, a young girl whose emotive story and accompanying photograph in National Geographic illustrated the health issues she faced as a result of pesticide exposure. This story resulted in better protection for her town, with safety measures introduced.  Other areas of Argentina that have not yet introduced these measures to minimise the human health damage caused by these pesticides. By assessing both the human and environmental health risks associated with pesticides used in Argentina as well as Europe, we aim to inform Argentinian policymakers about steps they could take to protect its residents from pesticide-related disease.

A recent report detected 80 pesticides in fruit and vegetables across Argentina, many at levels above the maximum allowed limits (SENASA REPORT). In addition, this does not consider the cumulative effects of residues. This is concerning as it means that we are, essentially, consuming pesticides in every meal.

(A lack of) Safety measures whilst applying pesticides in Argentina

sprint pesticide cans

Photo credit: PABLO AHARONIAN / AFP

There have been several reports of pesticides being applied without using recommended safety precautions in Argentina. It was also found that pesticide operators face high levels of pesticide exposure, though this often depends on economic and socio-cultural factors (Butinof et al, 2014). In addition, there appears to be very little enforcement of regulations relating to pesticide use.

There is also widespread failure to store empty pesticide containers correctly, with some Argentine farmers either burning them, burying them, or reusing them (Butinof et al, 2014).

‘Of the 13 million containers sold in 2019 in the Buenos Aires Province, scarcely one million were recovered. The remaining 12 million likely ended up on the black market, buried, dumped or burnt’. – BA Times

This improper disposal of these containers may have severe implications for environmental and human health.

Increasing pressure from crop pests

Whilst recognition that pesticide use is harming the environment and human health is on the rise, Argentinian farmers are facing several pressures which may result in increased reliance on pesticide use.

Firstly, climate change is resulting in increased pest pressure Argentina. For example, there have been predictions that plant hopper attacks on maize are likely to increase (Murgida et al, 2014), whilst soybeans are facing an increase in crop diseases at maturity. Lastly, wheat is facing an increase in the prevalence of Fusarium sp., particularly in the Southern Pampa region of Argentina. This is a serious fungal disease that can cause significant harm to crop yield and quality (see image below). Viable alternatives to pesticides are urgently needed to ensure that Argentinian farmers can become sustainable businesses without causing harm to human and environmental health.

Fusarium wheat

Fusarium disease in wheat. Photo credit: Science.org

Conclusion

This article has introduced pesticide use in Argentina and outlines some of the environmental and human health impacts of this reliance. These pesticides have allowed Argentina to become a globally recognised producer of several crops, boosting its fragile economy but with costs for human health and the environment. SPRINT looks forward to sharing its results on the risks of using pesticides before making recommendations on how to transition away from reliance both in Argentina and across Europe.  

Written by: Dr Charlotte Chivers, Countryside and Community Research Institute (UK)

Contributions from: Virginia Carolina Aparicio, INTA (Argentina), Jane Mills (CCRI, UK), Dr Matt Reed (CCRI, UK)

Cover image credit: Phys.org.

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1 comment

  • Comment Link KANKI ALONSO Tuesday, 01 March 2022 17:48 posted by KANKI ALONSO

    Gracias por abordar este problema que mantiene en conflicto al pueblo contra los intereses empresariales nacionsles y transnacionales, unos afectados por lesiones en sus derechos de incidencia colectiva y los productores preocupados en aumentar la rentabililidad e expensas de la salud en la red de interacciónes biológicas, la salud y externalizando los costos de sus producciones sobre el daño a las matrices ambientales, agua, suelo, aire. ¿Cuánto costaría la tonelada de soja transgénica, si su productor tuviera que cargar con el costo del tratamiento de detoxificación ambiental?
    El actual modelo de producción de alimentos, está condenando a la población a la degradación de su salud, la pérdida de diversidad y daño al ostrimonio natural que heredarán las generaciones futuras.

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