By Mike Barrett
After losing a 3-day old daughter to kidney failure, a woman named Sofia Gatica from Argentina made a decision to spearhead an anti-Monsanto movement with other mothers of sick children. Monsanto is a biotechnology, agrochemical company which has been polluting the environment and human health with herbicides, pesticides, genetically modified foods, and other substances for decades. Numerous cases have been brought against Monsanto for biological damage and even death — such is the recent case in which farmers say the biotech giant’s creations spawned ‘devastating birth defects‘.
Near where Gatica lives, there are soybean fields covering the land where farmers spray loads of chemicals on the crops. The primary weed killer used on the fields is the one and only Roundup, the most popular herbicide used by farmers which contains the active ingredient glyphosate. Gatica didn’t initially connect the chemical exposure to her baby’s death until she noticed that many of her friends and neighbors were also experiencing health problems.
“I started seeing children with mouth covers, mothers with scarves wrapped around their heads to cover their baldness, due to chemotherapy…There are soybeans to the north, to the south, and to the east, and when they spray, they spray over the people because there’s no distance,” Gatica said to a Grist reporter.
In fact, researchers found that people in her area had three to four agricultural chemicals in their blood, including one chemical, endosulfan, which is banned in over 80 countries. The researchers also found that 33 percent of the residents were struck with cancer. In other previous German findings, Monsanto’s Roundup was present in all urine samples tested at an amount of 5 to 20-fold the established limit for drinking water, showing how prevalent these chemicals really are.
In retaliation to Monsanto and their highly used chemical creations, Gatica worked to create an international movement against Monsanto with other activists. A few years ago, after co-founding a group called Mothers of Ituzaingó, she and her group initiated the first epidemiological study of the area which found high rates of neurological and respiratory disease, birth defects, infant mortality, and cancer rates more than 40 times the national average. She then continued to find researchers to study the links between pesticides, herbicides, and health problems, while engaging in protests voicing concerns over the issues.
“We blockaded the spraying machines. We would get into the fields to block them. We carried out protests at the Ministry of Agriculture and the Health Ministry. We took sick people to the ministry,” she said.
Over the course of a few years, mandatory buffer zones between aerial spraying and neighborhoods has been put in place thanks to the activist movement. In addition, Argentina’s Supreme Court decided that agrochemicals could not be sprayed near living areas.
However, while Gatica and other activists successfully created change, the process wasn’t necessarily easy. In fact, there were even direct threats.
“Somebody came inside my house with a weapon. I was told not to ‘screw around with the soybeans.’ I would get phone calls where I’d be told that I would only have two children the next day,” she said. “I had the police investigate this, but I was told that the file was secret,” she added after being questioned as to whether she ever found out who made the personal attacks.
Interestingly enough, previous research found that Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide Roundup exhibits direct toxicity to human cells, effectively killing them off even at low doses. The toxicity and negative impact on young children is even greater, and is most detrimental to infants or unborn babies. Although Gatica started alone and was even directly threatened, she rose above these complications and effectively ignited change – she will not be the last.