Chilean Farmers Injured by Pesticide Use
Chile is striving to increase its annual export of fruit, and pressuring its farmers to use more highly toxic agricultural chemical in the process. 39 of the 928 pesticides registered and in use in Chile are on the United Nations' list of pesticides prohibited or severely restricted by governments, according to government officials.
"It is very common that a pesticide banned or severely restricted in the United States can be bought over the counter in Chile and other Latin American countries," said Douglas Murray, professor of sociology at Colorado State University who has been tracking agricultural chemicals throughout the region.
Elizabeth Gayton has treated farmworkers suffering from pesticide exposure for the past 13 years in a small clinic in the Atacama Desert's Copiapo Valley in Chile. She treats about five workers a week during the months of high pesticide use, most of whom suffer from burning sensations and cheeks swollen to the size of baseballs from overexposure to the possible carcinogen Dormex, a chemical used to speed up the growth of grapes.
The increased use of agricultural chemicals has increased the chances of skin disease, miscarriages, sterility, and cancer in farmworkers, according to public health workers. A 1998 Rancagua Hospital study in the central valley region, where 60 percent of Chile's pesticides are used, found that residents are 40 percent more likely to have children born with defects than in other regions.
"Most workers are not warned to take special precautions, and they often work more hours with these substances than is safely recommended," said Alberto Palma, who manages pesticide use at a family-owned Copiaco Valley vineyard.
"The economic model emphasizes deregulation and export. It pushes farmers into a competitive rush," said Miguel Altieri, a Chilean who is professor of sustainable agriculture at the University of California at Berkeley. "The farmers don't understand that they could reduce the use of pesticides dramatically and obtain the same levels of production."
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