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US Banana Company Linked to Birth Defects?
Weekly News Update on the Americas, issue 419, 8 February 1998
The Honduran Congress and human rights groups announced on Feb. 5 that they will investigate charges linking Standard Fruit, a subsidiary of the US-based company Castle and Cooke, to birth defects in Yoro department. National Human Rights Commissioner Leo Valladares told Mexican news agency Notimex that his office will carry out investigations in conjunction with the Health Ministry to determine the veracity of statements made by doctors in Olanchito, a town of 10,000 inhabitants in Yoro department.
"In this town a genocide is being committed, because every night it is bombarded with pesticides and all kinds of pollutants that are harmful to health," Omar Gonzalez, director of the Anibal Edgard Murrillo Escobar Hospital in Olanchito, told reporters on Feb. 5. Gonzalez said that 18 of every 2,000 babies born in Olanchito hospital are born with anencephalia, lacking most or all of their brain tissue. The doctor suggested that the use of pesticides could be "one of the causes" of the anencephalia; he demanded "a rigorous study of this hypothesis by the Health Ministry." Gonzalez believes that the babies are born with anencephalia because "their mothers have been exposed to dibromocloropropano, better known as Nemagon," a chemical which is banned in many countries. Gonzalez also suggested that anencephalia could occur because "the sperm of the men affected by Nemagon have genetic mutations."
Francisco Romero, deputy manager of Standard Fruit Company in Honduras, told AFP that "it is a lack of responsibility for a doctor to make charges without support, because 95% of the workers' children are born in our OCOSA hospital and no one has accused us of having those rates of [anencephalic births]." Romero added, "We are open to any type of investigation."
"We're concerned about this charge, although since years ago there has been talk about the misuse of insecticides by Standard, and now we will investigate it in depth," said congressperson Matias Funes, who sits on the Banana Commission of the National Congress. "The Honduran government should put a stop to these actions of the banana transnationals," warned Funes. [El Diario- La Prensa 2/6/98 from AFP; Notimex 2/5/98]