Mother Who Took on Monsanto Wins Global Prize

19th April 2012

By  Kristin Schafer

Hats off to this mother of three who got fed up and took charge. Thirteen years ago, Sofà­a Gatica’s newborn died of kidney failure after being exposed to pesticides in the womb. After the despair came anger, then a fierce determination to protect the children in her community and beyond.

Today, she’s one of six grassroots leaders from around the world receiving the  Goldman Environmental Prize, in recognition of her courageous – and successful – efforts.

We at Pesticide Action Network are deeply honored to host Sofà­a as she travels to San Francisco for tonight’s ceremony and celebration. And personally, I look forward to meeting a mom with the chutzpa to take on Monsanto to protect her children.

Pesticides Drift From GE Soy Fields

Sofà­a lives in Ituzaingà³ Annex, a working-class neighborhood of 6,000 bordering commercial soy farms in the province of Cà³rdoba in Argentina.

Argentina is the third largest exporter of soybeans in the world. It is also the  third largest producer  of genetically engineered (GE) crops worldwide, following closely behind the U.S. and neighboring Brazil. The explosion of GE soy production in Argentina has brought with it dramatic  increases in pesticide use, and specifically aerial spraying of Monsanto’s weedkiller, RoundUp. Spraying of the antiquated insecticide endosulfan was also common until this year. Its use is now banned in Argentina as it moves toward a global  phaseout  under the Stockholm treaty.

RoundUp, long touted by Monsanto as all but harmless, has recently been linked to increased  risk of birth defects  when mothers are exposed during pregnancy. Endosulfan has also been linked to  health harms in children, including birth defects, reproductive harm and  autism.

Local Mothers Take Charge

Here’s where  Sofà­a’s story  becomes truly inspirational.

After she lost her newborn, she realized that such losses were all too common in her small community. Building on Argentina’s powerful history of  movements led by mothers, Sofà­a worked with other concerned moms to go door to door collecting stories about health problems in each family – essentially conducting the community’s first-ever epidemiological study.

Despite few resources and very real threats, Sofà­a led the Mothers of Ituzaingà³ to concrete victory.

“The Mothers of Ituzaingà³” discovered the community’s cancer rate to be  41 times  the national average. Rates of neurological problems, respiratory diseases and infant mortality were also astonishingly high.

The group then launched a “Stop the Spraying!” campaign, leading demonstrations and publishing materials warning the community about the dangers of pesticides.

Their efforts bore fruit. In 2008, Argentina’s president ordered an investigation of the health impacts of pesticides in Ituzaingà³ Annex; the resulting official study corroborated their informal door-to-door research. Sofà­a and the Mothers of Ituzaingà³ then won a municipal “buffer zone” ordinance, prohibiting aerial spraying less than 2,500 meters from homes.

Honoring Leadership and Courage

Each year since 1989, the  Goldman Prize  has honored grassroots leaders across the globe, unsung heroes who are campaigning for environmental justice and sustainability in their local communities. This global recognition of  Sofia’s work  couldn’t be more deserved.

Despite few resources and very real threats -including being held at gunpoint in her own home – Sofà­a led the Mothers of Ituzaingà³ to concrete victory: on-the-ground protections for the children in their community. The group also raised the profile of the broader issue of the health harms of pesticides to the national level, making room for a push for safer and  more sustainable approaches  to agriculture.

Sofà­a is now working with mothers in other Argentine communities, looking for ways to expand protections to families across the country. We at PAN salute her commitment, dedication and creativity, and congratulate her for the well deserved international recognition of today’s Goldman Prize.

Video:  2012 Goldman Prize Winner for South and Central America: Sofia Gatica

About the author:
Kristin Schafer  is Senior Policy Strategist with Pesticide Action Network, based in San Francisco. She has worked on pesticide, toxics and sustainable agriculture issues for the past 20 years, including 2 years in Kenya. She loves to garden, play at the beach, and ride her road bike. She lives in San Jose with her husband and two children.

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