Argentina pressed to ban crop chemical after health concerns
Jun. 1, 2009
Argentina's government is coming under pressure to ban the chemical used in the world's best-selling herbicide, which has helped turn the country into an important world food exporter in the past decade, after new research found that it might be harmful to human health.
A group of environmental lawyers has petitioned the Supreme Court to impose a six-month ban on the sale and use of glyphosate , which is the basis for many herbicides, including the US agribusiness giant Monsanto's Roundup product.
A ban, if approved, would mean "we couldn't do agriculture in Argentina", said Guillermo Cal, executive director of CASAFE, Argentina's association of fertiliser companies.
Argentina has become a world food-exporting powerhouse, largely through the use of genetically modified seeds that have been engineered to resist glyphosate. That has allowed soya farmers to boost yields dramatically by sowing directly without clearing the land, and then spraying the herbicide to kill weeds without affecting the new crop.
The country is the world's top exporter of soya oil and ranks second in exports of corn, third in soyabeans and seventh in wheat. Glyphosate is its most widely used herbicide and farmers spend some $450m on it a year and use 150m litres annually on their crops, Mr Cal says.
Any ban on the use of glyphosate could have dire fiscal consequences: the already cash-strapped Argentine government relies heavily on tariffs levied on agricultural exports. It is expected to rake in some $5bn this year, although that is about half the previous year's level after a longrunning conflict with farmers, a bitter drought and lower prices have slashed production of the country's main cash crop, soya.
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