Recently, growing worries about the rising prevalence of the mosquito-borne Zika virus has been tied to new cases of microcephaly, a birth abnormality that affects brain development in infants. And while the World Health Organization has not yet established a cause-and-effect relationship between microcephaly and Zika, it has still declared a public health emergency and issued warnings for pregnant women and travellers.
So while medical experts scramble to better understand the relationship between these two illnesses, the current combination of fear and not knowing the actual cause of the recent surge of microcephaly has led to much speculation, occasionally bordering on conspiracy theory.
Not surprisingly, one suspected culprit of microcephaly is agrotech giant Monsanto, one of the most controversaial corporations on earth. According to a recent report by the Red Universitaria de Ambiente y Salud, the endemic level of microcephaly in newborns could be caused by the chemical larvicide Pyroproxyfen which is used to protect Brazilian crops from pests, and not by transmission of the Zika virus.
“A dramatic increase of congenital malformations, especially microcephaly in newborns, was detected and quickly linked to the Zika virus by the Brazilian Ministry of Health,” the report states. “However, they fail to recognise that in the area where most sick persons live, a chemical larvicide producing malformations in mosquitoes has been applied for 18 months, and that this poison (Pyroproxyfen) is applied by the State on drinking water used by the affected population.”
The report, authored by Physicians in Crop-Sprayed Towns (PCST), goes on to blame Pyroproxyfen manufacturer and Monsanto associate Sumitomo Chemical, which they incorrectly called a “subsidiary” of Monsanto, as being responsible for the propagation of the virus. In other words, they are claiming that pesticides, and not the Zika virus, would be the main cause of microcephaly.
Monsanto, for its part, is denying any connection to microcephaly and downplaying its relationship with Sumitomo.
“Monsanto does not manufacture or sell Pyriproxyfen,” Monsanto spokesperson Charla Lord told MUNCHIES in an e-mail. “Neither Monsanto nor our products have any connection to the Zika virus or microcephaly. And, Monsanto does not own Sumitomo Chemical Company. It is only a business partner like others in the area of crop protection.”
Lord then referred us to Monsanto’s official press statement on the matter, in response to what it calls “misinformation and rumors on social media.”
“As a science-based company working to help meet some of the world’s biggest challenges we support all efforts to combat this health crisis. We hope all efforts will be taken based on the facts, not rumors,” the statement said, adding, “The Zika virus is a tragic and critical health issue. Dealing effectively with such an important health threat requires a focus on the facts.”
Brazil’s Ministry of Health, for its part, has emphasized that the WHO has approved Pyriproxyfen as safe, while many health experts remain skeptical about the link between pesticides and Zika. So while internet conspiracy theories continue to spread at the same viral rate as Zika, the issue is far from resolved, and even George Takei isn’t immune from bogus claims.