Paraguay: The Chemicals

Here is a list of the chemicals used in soy production in Paraguay:

The main one being Glyphosate (Roundup Ready) Pyrethrin, Triazole, Strobilurinas

The last three chemicals are relatively benign. Strobilurnias for instance is a fungicide used on food products and golf courses. The US Environmental Protection Agency issues only moderate risks to aquatic animals when it's filtered through certain soils and says these three fall below their level of concern.

However, use of Glyphosate is more complicated and raises ample concern.

Sold under the trade name Roundup by Monsanto, it is designed to work exclusively with their engineered soybean seeds. However, in Paraguay (and presumably elsewhere) there is a prolific counterfeit market so there is no way to tell exactly what is being sprayed on the soybeans and in what concentration.

In interviews with soy growers here, I'm told they use the recommended concentration which is 2 liters per hectare or anywhere between 20-48% more concentrated than what the US EPA says is safe for drinking water (please check my math and logic below). However, of the five growers I spoke with, every single one said while they use Roundup correctly their neighbor does not.

  • Claudia Russer, president of Paraguay's soybean production association: "What we have is an ignorance problem, many people don't know how to use the chemicals."
  • Fabian Olmedo, who has worked with soybeans in varying capacities for 20 years: "In the past it was much worse than it is now. Often small farmers washed their tanks in the river. Now they don't do that so much anymore."
  • Caesar Pazzoli, the director of a very large, Italian owned soy plantation: "We use the chemicals properly, but I know there are many small growers who don't care to. But we use them correctly."
  • Dr. Joel Filartiga, a medical doctor educated at Albert Einstein Medical College who has treated many peasants exposed to agi-chemicals: "It is 10 times more concentrated here than in the United States."

Perhaps most troubling is that Paraguay does in fact have laws regulating the use of agri-chemicals. Former minister of agriculture, Ricardo Garay, told me at a recent agriculture conference that the current government hasn't the infrastructure nor the will to create an infrastructure that could enforce public health or environmental standards.

Paraguay produces nearly 7 million tons of soybeans for the global food market.

My Math:
Hector Cristaldo, president of Coordinadora Agrícola del Paraguay, gave me the figure 2 liters per hectare. Assuming Roundup is roughly the same density as water, there are then 4.5 pounds per 2.5 acres or 1.8 pounds per acre. The US EPA says in the US there are 18.7 million pounds of Roundup used on between 13 to 20 million acres. Or 1.4 to .93 pounds per acre.