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Clearing The Air: Monsanto Breaks Silence On Zika Virus, Microcephaly And Sumitomo Larvicide

16 February 2016, 7:49 am EST By Alyssa Navarro Tech Times
Grandmother Ivalda holds baby Ludmilla who has microcephaly

After allegations broke out online that a toxic larvicide may be the real cause of the microcephaly outbreak in Brazil, biotechnology company Monsanto has spoken out about the issue on Monday to clear up "rumors and misinformation."

In response to a story published by Tech Times, Monsanto told us that neither the company nor its products have any connection to microcephaly or the Zika virus as it does not manufacture or sell Pyriproxyfen or any other larvicides.

Monsanto cleared up its relationship with Sumitomo Chemical Company.

"Monsanto does not own Sumitomo Chemical Company," the company wrote in an email. The Japanese firm, however, has been Monsanto's business partner since 1997 in the sector of crop protection.

According to Monsanto, Sumitomo supplies the American biotech company with herbicide products. Sumitomo is also a participant in the Roundup Ready Plus program, which focuses on developing effective tools and solutions for weed and insect management.

Monsanto also said the herbicide glyphosate or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not connected in any way to microcephaly or the Zika virus outbreak.

"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," said Monsanto. "We hope all efforts will be taken based on the facts, not rumors."

Suspending The Use Of Pyriproxyfen On Water Supplies

Brazilian health officials were forced to address the allegations as reports surfaced online.

On Saturday, the local government in Rio Grande do Sul, a state in the south of the country, has suspended the use of Pyriproxyfen in its water supplies.

"We decided to suspend the use of the product in drinking water until we have a position from the Ministry of Health," said Joao Gabbardo dos Reis, Rio Grande do Sul's health secretary.

Dos Reis said the state will still reinforce the appeal to eliminate probable mosquito breeding sites.

The federal government, however, was quick to dismiss the rumors, insisting that there is no scientific evidence linking Pyriproxyfen to microcephaly.

The Brazilian government said that, unlike the relationship between Zika and microcephaly, which has been confirmed through tests, the link between microcephaly and Pyriproxyfen has no scientific basis. The Zika virus was detected in the samples of tissue, blood and amniotic fluid of pregnant patients.

"It's important to state that some localities that do not use Pyriproxyfen also had reported cases of microcephaly," the government said, adding that state-run programs used larvicides that were recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Some experts also say that Pyriproxyfen, which has been used for quite a long time now in agriculture as insect larvae inhibitor, is not linked to birth defects.

University of Melbourne Professor Ary Hoffmann said the development of insects is different from that of humans because both processes involve different series of genes, hormones, and developmental pathways.

"It cannot be assumed that chemicals affecting insect development also influence mammalian development," said Hoffmann.

Link Between Zika Virus And Microcephaly

Questions have been raised about the sudden spike of microcephaly in Brazil, particularly because of the absence of a surge in other regions hit by the Zika virus.

Brazil has registered a total of 3,852 suspected cases of microcephaly. Roughly 1,200 cases have been investigated but, according to reports, only 462 cases have been confirmed.

In February, scientists in Paraiba reported that the state has been seeing high numbers of microcephaly cases since 2012. In mid-2014, the birth defect had become more common than in mid-2015, the report said. Paraiba is one of the worst hit areas of the microcephaly outbreak in Brazil.

So far, two separate studies last week found evidence of Zika in the brain tissue of babies who died after birth and aborted fetuses who all had microcephaly.

In addition, a new report by a team at the PUC-Parana University also found the Zika virus in the brain tissue of two babies with microcephaly. Both lived for only 48 hours.

"The Zika virus caused brain damage," said researcher Lucia Noronha, a pathologist from the Brazilian Society of Pathology. She said this reinforces evidence of a link between microcephaly and Zika virus.

Meanwhile, the WHO said a definitive link between Zika and microcephaly will be confirmed in a few weeks. Scientists are also racing toward the development of an effective vaccine and treatment for Zika virus. Clinical trials are expected within 12 to 18 months.

Chemical manufacturer Sumitomo released a statement to clear its name and deny any connection to microcephaly.

" Sumitomo Chemical, since it's foundation more than 100 years ago, has rigorously used science as a base for its activities and has regarded the safety of our products as of paramount importance, and thoroughly reviews any new reports and information relevant to our products," the company said.

"Pyriproxyfen, after going through extensive toxicological testing, has shown no effects on the reproductive system or nervous system in mammals, and has been approved and registered for use in the past 20 years by the authorities of around 40 countries," it added.

Sumitomo's pyripoxyfen is used in countries such as Spain, Netherlands, France and in 37 other markets.

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