France’s public health agency has postponed the release of a report on an investigation into the abnormal numbers of babies being born without arms in rural regions — a medical mystery which has baffled experts.
Three infants were born with no arms between June and November 2016 within a 30km radius of Vitrolles in the Bouches-du-Rhône region. That followed another cluster of cases near the area of Ain, where eight babies were born with the defect within a 17km radius. Similar cases have also been observed in other regions of rural France.
A nationwide investigation into the phenomenon began last October and the government had promised an update by January 31, but that date was suddenly pushed back — and the parents of affected children are becoming impatient and suspicious.
In an open letter to public health officials, a group of parents expressed doubts about the ongoing investigation and said their questions have “never had clear answers.” They accused the government of focusing on explanations which have already been dismissed by another public health body which researches cases of malformation.
Remera, the health body which looks into instances of malformation, carried out its own investigation in 2018. As part of it, mothers were interviewed with a “very extensive questionnaire” about their lifestyles to see if there were any similarities between their pregnancies. This led doctors to dismiss genetics, drugs, and alcohol as potential causes for the missing limbs.
Santé Publique France, the national health agency, previously conducted an investigation before the latest spate of cases — but that investigation concluded that there had not been an excessive level of incidents in Ain and that no further investigation was needed. Other experts, however, said the number of cases in Ain was 58 times the normal statistical amount.
Emmanuelle Amar, the director of Remera in the south east of France concluded that the “only thing they have in common is that they all live in a very rural area.” Remera therefore dismissed the likelihood of the malformations as being down to chance — as the government agency previously suggested — as “more than infinitesimal.”
Remera believes that harmful pesticides in wide use in rural areas of France are the most likely culprit. The mystery remains unsolved, but the possible link to agriculture is given weight by the fact that around the same time the cases were observed in Ain, several calves and chickens were born with missing limbs in the area.