by Jonathan Benson
May 13, 2012
The tragic, but inspiring, story of one woman's quest for justice in
her local community has resulted in a significant victory for health
Sofia Gatica, an ordinary,
working-class mother from Argentina, successfully mobilized more
than a dozen of her neighbors to fight the indiscriminate spraying
of Monsanto's Roundup (glyphosate) herbicide and other chemicals
near the town of Ituzaingo where she lives - and in the process, she
has earned a prestigious environmental award for her brave,
Argentina is the third largest exporter of soybeans in the world,
which means many of the country's agricultural areas are heavily
sprayed by the pervasive pesticide and herbicide chemicals used to
grow the crop, which is typically of genetically-modified (GM)
And this has most assuredly been the
case in soybean field-surrounded Ituzaingo, where the local cancer
rate is at least 41 times higher than the national average, and
rates of birth defects and infant mortality are off the charts.
For Gatica, the quest for environmental justice began when her own
newborn daughter recently died of kidney failure just three days
after being born.
Gatica began talking to neighbors and
local authorities about what may have been the cause of the child's
death, and came to the disturbing realization that heavy pesticide
and herbicide sprayings on the soybean fields that surround her town
are responsible for causing unprecedented health problems throughout
her community, including in her own daughter.
In the first epidemiological study ever conducted in the area,
Gatica's persistent door-to-door surveying uncovered the dirty truth
about these aerial sprayings, which prompted her and more than a
dozen of her concerned neighbors to jointly launch an official
campaign called Stop Spraying.
Despite a lack of resources and repeated
threats by local police and some business owners, Gatica and her
supporters were able to achieve a significant victory in protecting
not only their town, but also the entire country of Argentina from
efforts prompt Argentinian Supreme Court
...to require chemical companies to prove
chemical safety prior to use
In addition to helping get a local ordinance passed that has banned
the spraying of all pesticides and herbicides within 2,500 meters of
local residences, Gatica's efforts have also helped convince her
country's Supreme Court to rule that agrochemical companies must now
prove that their chemicals are safe before they can be permitted for
Prior to the ruling, the burden of proof was on local residents and
other concerned parties to prove that an existing chemical was
unsafe before it ever had the chance of being pulled from the
But now, chemical companies will
actually have to abide by commonsense regulatory and safety
protocols before carelessly thrusting their toxic brews on rural
Gatica's successes in fighting the tyranny of the biotechnology
industry in her community have been so significant that she was
recently awarded the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize (GEP), a
prestigious prize given to individuals working at the grassroots
level to protect the environment and fight injustice.
But Gatica's efforts do not stop there.
"Recognizing the extent of the
issue, Gatica is working with the Stop Spraying campaign to ban
all aerial spraying in Argentina and create buffer zones so that
agrochemicals are not used in close proximity to residential
areas and waterways," says a recent GEP announcement.
"With Argentina's ban on endosulfan
(another toxic insecticide) going into effect July 2013, Gatica
and her colleagues are pushing for a nationwide ban on
glyphosate as well."