Mother Takes on Monsanto, Wins Global Prize

April 16th, 2012  By Kristin Schafer

Hats off to this mother of three who got fed up and took charge. Thirteen years ago, Sofía 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.

Pesticide Action Network will host Sofía as she travels to San Francisco for tonight’s ceremony and celebration.

Pesticides drift from GE soy fields

Sofía lives in Ituzaingó Annex, a working-class neighborhood of 6,000 bordering commercial soy farms in the province of Córdoba 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 Sofía’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, Sofía 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, Sofía led the Mothers of Ituzaingó to concrete victory.

“The Mothers of Ituzaingó” 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 Ituzaingó Annex; the resulting official study corroborated their informal door-to-door research. Sofía and the Mothers of Ituzaingó then won a municipal “buffer zone” ordinance, prohibiting aerial spraying less than 2,500 meters from homes.

Honoring leadership & 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—Sofía led the Mothers of Ituzaingó 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.

Sofía is now working with mothers in other Argentine communities, looking for ways to expand protections to families across the country.

Video: http://youtu.be/eHHS45AJsoI

Study: Autism Linked to Industrial Food, Environment

When will we learn? If we put crap into our bodies, our bodies are going to turn into crap.


Report cites prevalence of high-fructose corn syrup in US diet as possible contributor to alarming epidemic

- Common Dreams staff

A new study by Clinical Epigenetics, a peer-reviewed journal that focuses largely on diseases, has found that the rise in autism in the United States could be linked to the industrial food system, specifically the prevalence of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the American diet. The study, published yesterday online, explores how mineral deficiencies could impact how the human body rids itself of common toxic chemicals like mercury and pesticides. The report comes just after a different report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, documented a startling rise in autism in the United States.

An autistic child (photo: Help with Autism) “To better address the explosion of autism, it’s critical we consider how unhealthy diets interfere with the body’s ability to eliminate toxic chemicals, and ultimately our risk for developing long-term health problems like autism.” said Dr. David Wallinga, a study co-author and physician at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

The report’s key findings:

  • Autism and related disorders affect brain development. The current study sought to determine how environmental and dietary factors, like HFCS consumption, might combine to contribute to the disorder.
  • Consumption of HFCS, for example, is linked to the dietary loss of zinc, which interferes with the elimination of heavy metals from the body. Many heavy metals like mercury, arsenic and cadmium are potent toxins with adverse effects on brain development in the young.
  • HFCS consumption can also impact levels of other beneficial minerals, including calcium. Loss of calcium further exacerbates the detrimental effects of exposure to lead on brain development in fetuses and children.
  • Inadequate levels of calcium in the body can also impair its ability to expel organophosphates, a class of pesticides long recognized by the EPA and independent scientists as especially toxic to the young developing brain.

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Read More

EPA Rejects Petition to Ban Pesticide, Paves Way for More Widespread Use

Use of the pesticide 2,4-D, an ‘Agent Orange’ ingredient,

- Common Dreams staff

The Environmental Protection Agency rejected a petition to ban the sale of the 2,4-D pesticide, a major ingredient in the Vietnam-era defoliant ‘Agent Orange’. Despite its current widespread availability, use of 2,4-D could skyrocket soon because its main manufacturer, Dow Chemical, is hoping to receive approval to sell genetically modified corn seeds that are resistant to 2,4-D.

“Dow’s ‘Agent Orange’ corn will trigger a large increase in 2,4-D use—and our exposure to this toxic herbicide—yet USDA has not assessed how much, nor analyzed the serious harm to human health, the environment or neighboring farms,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. (Image: EcoWatch) The decision from the EPA came in response to a lawsuit from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in January of this year, who filed the suit after the EPA refused to respond to a petition the environmental group first submitted in 2008.

“This dangerous pesticide is lurking all over the place – from ball fields and golf courses, to front lawns and farms – exposing an enormous amount of the American public to cancer and other serious health risks,” NRDC senior scientist Dr. Gina Solomon said, during the announcement of the move in January. “There’s no reason to continue allowing a toxic Agent Orange-ingredient in the places our children play, our families live and our farmers work. EPA must step up and finally put a stop to it.” 

The EPA’s decision on Monday, however, rejected the idea that 2,4-D was a health or “safety” threat, and even pointed to a Dow Chemical conducted study to support their decision.

The Center for Food Safety, who worked alongside NRDC to push the ban, expressed deep concern for the increased use of 2,4-D if Dow’s new corn seeds are approved. “Dow’s ‘Agent Orange’ corn will trigger a large increase in 2,4-D use—and our exposure to this toxic herbicide—yet USDA has not assessed how much, nor analyzed the serious harm to human health, the environment or neighboring farms,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. “This novel corn will foster resistant weeds that require more toxic pesticides to kill, followed by more resistance and more pesticides—a chemical arms race in which the only winners are pesticide/biotechnology firms.”

Common pesticides linked to lower birth weights

Effect comparable to smoking

Posted: Apr 6, 2012 1:05 PM ET

Last Updated: Apr 6, 2012 2:57 PM ET

For every 10-fold increase of the chemicals found in a pregnant women's urine, her pregnancy was reduced by half a week and her child's birth weight decreased about 150 grams.
For every 10-fold increase of the chemicals found in a pregnant women’s urine, her pregnancy was reduced by half a week and her child’s birth weight decreased about 150 grams. (CBC)

Pregnant women who showed higher exposure to common agricultural pesticides had babies with slightly lower birth weights, a study by Canadian and U.S. researchers has found.

Simon Fraser University health sciences professor Bruce Lanphear and his colleagues tested the urine of 306 pregnant women in Cincinnati, Ohio, twice during their pregnancies. They were looking for chemicals that would show the women had been exposed to organophosphate pesticides, which are used to kill insects.

The telltale chemicals, called metabolites, are generated when the body breaks down organophosphates. Organophosphates represented 36 per cent of all insectides used in the U.S. in 2007, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives this week, found that for every 10-fold increase in the concentration of the chemicals found in a pregnant woman’s urine, her pregnancy was reduced by half a week and her child’s birth weight decreased about 150 grams.

Lamphear said that’s comparable to the decrease in birth weight seen in the babies of women who smoke.

'One of many risk factors'

The amount may seem insignificant for any individual child, he acknowledged.

"But this is just one of many risk factors that a pregnant woman might encounter," he added in a statement. "If a woman has four or five risk factors, the impact can be substantial."

Lower birth weights and premature births are linked to respiratory problems and problems with learning and behaviour.

According to the researchers, the women in the study were exposed to levels of organophosphates comparable to those in most other parts of North America.

Lamphear recommends that pregnant women can reduce their exposure to organophosphate pesticides by choosing organic foods; by washing fruits and vegetables carefully; and by choosing not to use pesticides in and around their homes.

Bees harmed by low levels of common pesticides

Posted: Mar 29, 2012 2:03 PM ET

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2012 2:02 PM ET

Buff-tailed bumblebees produced 85 per cent fewer queens when exposed to low doses of pesticides.
Buff-tailed bumblebees produced 85 per cent fewer queens when exposed to low doses of pesticides. (P. Whitehorn/Science/AAAS)

Even low doses of popular pesticides can reduce bees’ survival and reproduction, two new studies show.

The findings bolster evidence that such chemicals may be partly responsible for recent declines in populations of honeybees and bumblebees around the world, which have caused alarm due to the insects’ importance as crop pollinators.

The researchers suggest the widespread use of the pesticides needs to be re-evaluated in light of the findings.

The two studies, published Wednesday in the journal Science, looked at the effects of pesticides called neonicotinoids on bumblebees and honeybees, respectively. The chemicals were fed to the bees in doses similar to those that they would be exposed to in the wild when foraging among crops sprayed with the pesticides.

Neonicotinoids, first introduced in the 1990s, are used to kill aphids and other sap-sucking insects. According to a news release from Science, they are now some of the most widely used crop pesticides in the world.

In the first study, led by Penelope Whitehorn at the University of Stirling in Britain, colonies of buff-tailed bumblebees were fed doses of a neonicotinoid pesticide called imidacloprid and then allowed to forage for six weeks. The researchers found that bumblebees exposed to the pesticide had nests that were an average of eight to 12 per cent smaller than colonies that weren’t exposed. They also produced 85 per cent fewer queen bees.

That could have a huge effect on bumblebee populations, because all bumblebees except the queens die when winter sets in. Bumblebee populations rely on the queens to survive the winter and found new colonies in the spring.

In the second study, led by Mickaël Henry of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research in Avignon, France, honeybees were fed small doses of a different neonicotinoid pesticide called thiamethoxam. They were then tracked with small microchips called RFID tags.

The researchers found that 10 to 31 per cent of bees exposed to the pesticide did not return to their colony after being released to forage for the day. That was up to double the estimated normal mortality rate for a honeybee on a given day, about 15 per cent.

The pesticide appears to interfere with the bees’ ability to navigate and find their way back to the colony, an effect that has been shown in previous studies.

Henry noted that currently, in order to get a pesticide approved, the manufacturer must show that the product does not directly kill bees when applied to a field.

"But they basically ignore the consequences of doses that do not kill them but may cause behavioral difficulties," he said in a statement.

David Goulson, who co-authored the British study with Whitehorn, said the use of neonicotinoid pesticides “clearly poses a threat” to the health of bees and “urgently needs to be re-evaluated.”

Scotts Miracle-Gro pleads guilty to selling poisoned bird seed

Just grow organic.


Photo by Kris.

Scotts Miracle-Gro products are known for zapping weeds dead. But it turns out they could be killing decidedly more attractive creatures — birds.

Scotts pled guilty this Tuesday to charges that the company illegally put insecticides in its “Morning Song” and “Country Pride” brands of bird seed. That’s right: The company knowingly coated products intended for birds to eat with substances toxic to birds and wildlife.

According to court records, in 2008, Scotts distributed 73 million packages of bird seed coated with the insecticides Storcide II, containing the active ingredient chlorpyrifos, and and Actellic 5E, containing the active ingredient pirimiphos-methyl, intended to keep insects from destroying the seed.

The company continued to produce and market the insecticide-coated seeds despite being alerted to toxicity dangers by a Scotts staff chemist and ornithologist.

And here’s the icing on the toxin-loaded cake: Storcide II, one of the insecticides in Scotts seed, comes with a huge warning label that reads: “Toxic to birds, toxic to wildlife” and “Exposed treated seed may be hazardous to birds.” Must be that a senior exec at Scotts got shat on by a pigeon one day and took it real personal.

In addition to the bird seed, Scotts is in big trouble for selling chemical-loaded gardening products without first obtaining registration from the EPA. The federal government alleges that a Scotts manager even went so far as to fabricate documents and correspondence with the agency. It seems they find forgery easier than just not poisoning wildlife.

The judge hasn’t decided what, exactly, Scotts’ punishment will be yet, but the company has proposed paying a $4 million fine and donating $500,000 towards wildlife conservation. Maybe all the house finches, sparrows, and mourning doves Scotts has poisoned over the years will file a class-action lawsuit and push for a lot more than that.


Truth in advertising: Your bedtime reading for Monday is Dashka Slater’s #longread on what happened when a biologist discovered that a top-selling herbicide can cause frogs to change gender. (Yes, this was sort of a plot twist in Jurassic Park.)

READ THIS! And then read Debra Cadbury’s ‘The Feminization of Nature’