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by NeoVision Friday, Feb. 12, 2010 at 7:38 AM

Regardless of their leftist or rightist ideological position, all work unions at Nicaragua Sugar and Compañía Licorera, the Flor de Caña rum manufacturer, have pronounced themselves against the unfounded campaign by ANAIRC.

A group of people linked to the Nicaraguan Association of Persons Affected by Chronic Kidney Disease(ANAIRC) has been developing for some time a defamatory campaign against Nicaragua Sugar Estates Limited (NSEL), with the sole objective of obtaining unjustified financial compensation from the company. They have extended the campaign to Grupo Pellas and have promoted a boycott against the Flor de Caña rum brand.

The afore-referenced campaign rests on the assumption that former workers of Ingenio San Antonio, owned by NSEL, developed Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) while working for the company.

In an attempt to draw attention, ANAIRC has even presented data on CKD patients and deaths, which has not been corroborated by any authority or public or private institution of the Nicaraguan state.

What needs to be clarified first is that Flor de Caña has nothing to do with these accusations because the purported affected people are not former workers of Flor de Caña, rather they claim to be former workers of Ingenio San Antonio.

Flor de Caña has been involved because the afore-referenced claimants believe that this way, given the prestige of the brand and that Flor de Caña is produced by a company that belongs to Grupo Pellas, they can pressure NSEL to satisfy their unjustified demands for compensation.

Chronic Kidney Disease is a multi-causal disease that is prevalent throughout the world. Diabetes and hypertension are among the main causes. Diverse studies show that nearly 20 million people (one of every nine) in the United States have chronic renal insufficiency and another 20 million are at risk. In Japan, the figures are even higher, estimating that 20% of the total adult population, or 20.5 million people, have some form of the disease. In Spain, the prevalence rate of the disease has increased in recent years and affects one of every 8 Spaniards, equivalent to 12% of the population.

It is estimated that the number of CKD patients in several Latin American countries and Canada exceeds 3% of the population.

In the case of Nicaragua, the prevalence of the disease occurs mainly in the Pacific region (Leon, Chinandega, Managua, Masaya, Granada, Carazo and Rivas), including territories where sugarcane activities do not exist, like some municipalities of Leon (Larreynaga, La Paz Centro, Nagarote), which is the department with the highest prevalence rates.

No scientific study has established a causality relationship between work practices in sugar mills and CKD, as shown by the fact that countries like Guatemala, Cuba or Brazil, where sugarcane growing is a major activity, no CKD epidemic has been reported in their sugarcane zones, while Japan, which does not grow sugarcane, has the highest prevalence rate in the world.

Ingenio San Antonio (ISA), owned by Nicaragua Sugar Estates, employs the same agricultural practices that are used throughout the world and it is characterized for having an eco-friendly production system given that environmental protection is an essential aspect of the company’s social responsibility.

Several examples are:

• An integral biological and mechanical pest control system that eliminates the use of pesticides almost entirely and protects the environment.

• The use of minimal doses of insecticides of low toxicity and only on very specific occasions and in very limited sowing areas (between 2 and 3 percent of the total area). Given these characteristics and that applications occur in areas far away from population centers, there is no polluting effect.

• The agrochemicals used at ISA are registered with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAGFOR) and the toxicological and eco-toxicological approvals are issued by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA). These products are also registered with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Products are neutralized in the soil and are not transferred along the food chain.

• The compulsory use of personal protective equipment and strict compliance of safety measures in the application and use of agrochemicals.

• Periodic water quality tests performed by prestigious national and international laboratories, which show that water is suitable for human consumption.

• An efficient state-of-the-art irrigation system that reduces water consumption, while leading to rational use of the water-bearing aquifer.

• Generation of clean energy from sugarcane bagasse and eucalyptus chips, eliminating the use of bunker in its operations and ensuring 7% of Nicaragua’s power consumption during the harvest season. It is estimated that more than 95 thousand tons of greenhouse gases are reduced per year.

• Annual campaigns for reforestation with native species, such as madroño, cedar, mahogany, guanacaste and oak, originating from the nurseries of Ingenio San Antonio.

This clean production system has contributed, among other things, to Nicaragua Sugar being considered as an international benchmark in the sugar industry.

Nicaragua Sugar is a pioneer in social responsibility. For many years it has supported nearby communities in the execution of diverse projects, from the construction of schools, parks and bridges to sanitary infrastructure, health programs, etc. For this reason, it has been interested in helping to cope with the CKD disease, which is one of the major public health problems in the area where the company operates.

In this context, Nicaragua Sugar has been participating for several months in a dialogue with the Chichigalpa Association for Life (ASOCHIVIDA), the main association of CKD patients in Nicaragua.

As a result of this dialogue, Nicaragua Sugar is providing food supplies to the members of ASOCHIVIDA, as well as medicines, reagents and medical equipment to the Chichigalpa Health Center. It is also coordinating studies with ASOCHIVIDA to implement livelihood projects that benefit CKD patients and their families. These projects will be defined in the next three months.

On the other hand, ASOCHIVIDA and NSEL, under the auspices of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) Office of the World Bank, have decided to commission an international study to identify the causes of Chronic Kidney Disease in the west region of Nicaragua, which will be conducted by Boston University, a prestigious university in the United States. The terms of reference that will guide the study have already been prepared by Boston University and have been approved by NSEL and ASOCHIVIDA.

Regardless of their leftist or rightist ideological position, all work unions at NSEL and Compañía Licorera, the Flor de Caña rum manufacturer, have pronounced themselves against this unfounded campaign by ANAIRC.

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