Safer food, farmworkers and families
By Fawn Pattison, Executive Director, Toxic Free NC
As we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this week, many of us will say a prayer of thanks for the hardworking people who harvest our food. While we enjoy the harvest’s bounty, we also reflect on those who work hard in the fields, facing many dangers and often not earning enough to put food on the table themselves. That’s why Thanksgiving week is also designated as International Food Workers Week.
This week a coalition of farmworker supporters is launching a new campaign to keep farmworkers safe from one of the biggest hazards they face on the job: exposure to toxic pesticides.
Check out http://protectfarmworkers.org/ and add your name to the petition calling on the federal government to fix the outdated pesticide rules that are failing to keep workers – and us – safe from exposure on the job.
Farmworkers are some of the hardest working, yet least protected, workers in our country. Many laws that protect almost every other worker in the U.S. do not apply to farmworkers. There is one set of standards, however, that is designed to help protect the health and safety of farmworkers from pesticide exposure: the EPA’s Worker Protection Standard for pesticides. Yet these standards are grossly inadequate for the men, women and children who are on the frontlines of our food production system.
A healthy, safe, and fair food system would benefit us all, protecting the health and serving the economic needs of farmworkers, farmers, rural communities and consumers. Shifting away from reliance on hazardous pesticides is a key step toward this goal. But as long as harmful pesticides are in use, farmworkers need better protections in the field.
Farmworkers have one of the highest rates of chemical exposures among U.S. workers. They are regularly exposed to pesticides throughout their workday in various ways, from mixing or applying pesticides to planting, weeding, harvesting or processing crops. In addition, farmworkers often live in or near treated fields, and harmful pesticides can drift into their homes. Health impacts can include both acute poisonings and long-term, chronic health effects such as various cancers, Parkinsons’ Disease, asthma, birth defects and neurological harms, including developmental delays and learning disabilities. Farmworkers’ children are particularly at risk.
Current regulations have failed to protect farmworkers and their families from pesticide exposure and harms. California farmworker poisoning data illustrate the extent of this nationwide problem, reporting hundreds of poisoning cases each year. Hundreds more — possibly thousands — go unreported due to workers’ fear of job loss and/or retaliation. Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that many states have weak or nonexistent systems for reporting poisoning incidents.
After more than a decade of broken promises and delays, EPA is now poised to strengthen the rules protecting farmworkers; but the agency needs to do so now and it needs to get it right. EPA must issue revisions to strengthen the Worker Protection Standard before the end of the year. The new regulations should include the following key improvements:
- A minimum age of 18 to work with pesticides. Currently teens as young as 16 may work mixing, loading and applying these highly toxic chemicals.
- Better and more frequent training on health risks of pesticides.
- Worker access to timely information about the use, location, and hazards of specific pesticides on the farm where they work.
- Special protections for pesticide handlers.
- Improved enforcement of safety standards at the state level.
The farmworkers who harvest our food need protection from toxic pesticides. Safe fields go hand in hand with safe food. Add your voice and learn more at www.ProtectFarmworkers.org.