By Nick Meynen.
In Ituzaingó, a small city in Argentina, a battle of David against Goliath is brewing. In a lawsuit that started on July 11, a lawyer is suing a pilot and two soy-producers for the illegal spraying of glyphosate. These chemicals are sprayed aerially over soy fields, but the fields are just next to the city and the wind often takes them to the 6000 inhabitants. Behind this latest lawsuit is a battle that can be brought down to a working class mother against the multinational Monsanto. Meet the Latin-American version of Erin Brokovich: Sofia Gatica.
When Sofía Gatica’s daughter died three days after she was born, she suspected that something strange was going on in her neighborhood. Many of her neighbors suffered miscarriages and other health problems. She invited mothers to talk about health issues and co-founded the ‘Mothers of Ituzaingó’. They started with a door-to-door survey in the working-class neighborhood of 6,000, surrounded by soy fields. This was popular epidemiology, with some distressing results. They reported cancer rates that were 41 times the national average, as well as high rates of neurological and respiratory diseases, birth defects, and infant mortality. They also noticed a positive correlation of distance to the aerially sprayed soy-fields.
That was the start of a long and uphill battle. Many years with press conferences, demonstrations, blockades, published materials, calls for scientists to step in, scientific studies, cases filed in court, dead threats and insults later…Sofia Gatica was starting to win. First, she succeeded in getting a municipal ordinance passed that prohibited aerial spraying in Ituzaingó at distances of less than 2,500 meters from residences. Then, in an unprecedented victory, a 2010 ruling from the Supreme Court not only banned agrochemical spraying near populated areas, but it also reversed the burden of proof—instead of residents proving that spraying causes harm, the government and soy producers must now prove the chemicals are safe.
Gatica is now 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. With Argentina’s ban on endosulfan going into effect July 2013, Gatica and her colleagues are pushing for a nationwide ban on glyphosate as well. When Monsanto hears that Sofia Gatica is hoping the US government will sue them one day, they might as well pay attention. It’s not just a working class Argentinian mother airing some grievance, but a 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize winning grass roots activist with a serious track record of making environmental justice happen.