October 31, 2013
Farmers in Argentina have been using Monsanto‘s genetically engineered soybean seeds and pesticides since the 1990s. They’ve increased crop yields so much that Argentina is now the third largest soy producer in the world and the country’s farmers are convinced that GMOs and pesticides like Monsanto’s glyphosate are the key to their economic stability and to future food security.
But high crop yields have come at a price. A report from the Associated Press has found that Monsanto’s pesticides, and glyphosate in particular, are causing birth defects and cancer among Argentinians.
The Gatica family, who live only fifty meters away from fields planted with genetically modified soy, has had one young child fall mysteriously ill and a baby die after three days from kidney failure. After this tragedy, Sofía Gatica started asking other residents of Ituzaingó, a Córdoba suburb, if they also had unexplained health problems. So many did that she and other women formed a group, the Mothers of Ituzaingó, and demanded that the government investigate.
The government did so in 2002 and learned that 80 percent of children in Gatica’s neighborhood had agrotoxins in their blood and that the area’s water was polluted. At the same time, Andrés Carrasco, a doctor at the University of Buenos Aires, made a link between glyphosate and birth deformities, finding that “in most cases, the fetus dies before birth because of its deformities.”
The Associated Press’s report suggests that similar cases of birth deformities and illness are now being found throughout Argentina, as revealed from a review of many sources: hospital birth records, court records, peer-reviewed studies, continuing epidemiological surveys, pesticide industry and government data, and a comprehensive audit of agrochemical use in 2008-11 put together by Argentina’s bipartisan Auditor General’s Office.
Doctors interviewed by the Associated Press also say that their caseloads suggest “an apparent correlation between the arrival of intensive industrial agriculture and rising rates of cancer and birth defects in rural communities.” With cancer rates in Santa Fe reportedly two times higher than the national average and birth defects having increased fourfold in Chaco, doctors are calling for longer-time studies about agrochemical exposure.
Even more, farmers are using agrochemicals improperly, by failing to don protective gear and using the discarded pesticide containers to store water and other materials, according to the Associated Press.
Argentinians Environmentalists Take Up Fight Against Monsanto
Gatica’s efforts to protest about the use of Monsanto products have not been welcomed. She has been harassed by other people (once by a woman who “insulted her” for the 40 minutes of her trip to work) and says she’s received threatening phone calls. One time she was told that “I had three children and that I would end up with two.”
With the support of other environmental activists, Gatica is carrying on the fight for pesticide-free borders to ensure that agrotoxins are not sprayed near people. These efforts are meeting with success. At the start of October, Monsanto stopped work on a corn processing plant after protests by environmentalists disrupted the delivery of work supplies. Last year, a soy farmer and the pilot of a fumigation plane were found guilty of spraying harmful herbicides near residential areas.
Enrique Viale, the president of the Argentine Association of Environmentalist Lawyers, says that “the verdict is the product of the struggle by citizens, by women like Sofía Gatica, by the Mothers of Ituzaingó. It’s helpful and valuable as a precedent, but it’s not widespread yet.”
About ten percent of the Argentinian government’s budget comes from soy and “many farmers remain convinced” that using Monsanto products is necessary to continue their fields’ productivity, Deustche Welle says.
Even as evidence about the dangers to people’s health grows, getting farmers not to use glyphosate and GMOs is not going to be an easy task. But clearly, Gatica and the Mothers of Ituzaingó are up to the fight.