Regulators in Argentina approved Roundup Ready soybeans in 1996. Because the beans tolerate direct sprays of glyphosate herbicide (Roundup), controlling weeds was easier and Argentine farmers (like American farmers) quickly incorporated them. Argentina became the world’s 3rd largest producer of genetically modified soybeans. It was Argentina’s most important export. Use of herbicides increased 185 percent from 1997 to 2011 as glyphosate-resistant weeds required more and more chemicals.

Doctors began reporting health problems in the regions converting to the new farming practices. In Chaco, congenital defects quadrupled (19.1 to 85.3 per 10,000). By 2009, the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner set up a government commission to study the health crisis. A woman from Ituzaingo in the central farming belt of Argentina, Sofia Garcia, felt compelled to act. Her newborn daughter died of kidney failure in 1999. Sofia had only a high school education but she became convinced that her daughter’s death was related to Sofia’s exposure to chemical spraying on the soy fields while pregnant around her community of 5,000 residents.

She formed a group called the Mothers of Ituzaingo and filed complaints with local leaders. Eventually, research revealed herbicide and insecticide residues in the blood of 80 percent of the children in Ituzaingo. Cancer statistics had jumped 50 percent from 2001 to 2009 and was 41 times the national average. The evidence of harm led to prohibition on aerial spraying within 2,500 meters (1 and a half miles) from the village.

Sofia was honored as an environmental hero for her work and named the 2012 recipient of the international Goldman Environmental Prize. She said, “What happened in Ituzaingo is a hidden genocide because they poison you slowly and silently.” The use of the insecticide endosulfan is now banned in Argentina and in many countries around the world. Representatives from 127 countries added it to the United Nations list of pollutants needing to be eliminated because of their ability to cause reproductive and developmental damage in animals and humans. However, glyphosate use has continued. Garcia has called for it to be banned as well as she continues her protest work.

For more information on GMOs and Roundup, see my book.

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