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Analysis: How do the EU farmer protests relate to climate change?

By Orla Dwyer - The Conversation, February 5, 2024

From Berlin and Paris, to Brussels and Bucharest, European farmers have driven their tractors to the streets in protest over recent weeks. 

According to reports, these agricultural protesters from across the European Union have a series of concerns, including competition from cheaper imports, rising costs of energy and fertiliser, and environmental rules. 

Farmers’ groups in countries including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Poland and Romania have all been protesting over the past couple of months. 

The UK’s Sunday Telegraph has tried to frame the protests as a “net-zero revolt” with several other media outlets saying the farmers have been rallying against climate or “green” rules. 

Carbon Brief has analysed the key demands from farmer groups in seven countries to determine how they are related to greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, biodiversity or conservation. 

The findings show that many of the issues farmers are raising are directly and indirectly related to these issues. But some are not related at all. Several are based on policy measures that have not yet taken effect, such as the EU’s nature restoration law and a South American trade agreement. 

No Food Without Farmers, No Farmers Without Nature

By Enrico Somaglia - Green European Journal, February 13, 2024

With farmers taking to the streets and making headlines all over Europe, national governments and EU institutions are rushing to make concessions to appease them. But are the solutions offered what farmers and agricultural workers really need? We asked Enrico Somaglia, deputy general secretary of the European Federation of Food, Agriculture, and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT).

Green European Journal: Is there a common thread among the farmers’ protests happening across Europe?

Enrico Somaglia: The protests are linked to different national circumstances, such as overregulation, subsidy cuts, or imports of Ukrainian grain to the EU. But there is definitely a frustration towards a common enemy, the European Union, the Green Deal and its Farm To Fork strategy. Of course, not every farmer sees them as enemies: the agriculture sector is very heterogeneous. Small and big farmers are organised in different ways, they have different representatives. A minority within the sector opposes any kind of green policies because it is resistant to change. As trade unions, we firmly reject this stance.

On the other hand, a significant part of the farmers are against the Green Deal because they perceive it as something that has been unilaterally imposed on them. Fortunately, there is still room to improve green policies to make sure they are more socially acceptable. Trade unions see this as the way forward to build a different agriculture sector which is not only more sustainable from an environmental point of view, but is also a better place to work. To achieve that, we need measures for a truly just transition. We should not forget that if the condition of farmers is challenging, that of agricultural workers is simply unbearable. A vast proportion of seasonal workers, migrant workers, and daily labourers still face unrecorded working hours, appalling housing situations, and exploitative working relationships. The green transition can be an opportunity to create better jobs, but it needs to be stronger on the social side.

Are Europe’s Farmers Protesting Green Reforms? It’s Complicated

Images and Words by Rachel Sherrington - DeSmog, February 7, 2024

Across France, Italy and Belgium last week thousands of farmers descended on capital cities to express their deep discontent with the European food system.

The scenes were dramatic. Parked tractors brought traffic to a standstill in Paris, and on Thursday burning piles of hay and debris sent up huge, dark plumes of smoke in Brussels. The protests show no sign of slowing down and are expected this week across Italy, Slovenia and Spain.

Farmers’ demonstrations have been portrayed as a revolt against net zero, by the media and far-right groups.

This is the message received by governments – and they are acting on it. So far, the farmers have won key concessions, with the EU decision on Tuesday to drop its plans to cut pesticide use, hot on the heels of the same move by France on Friday, despite numbers of birds and pollinators plummeting in Europe.

Yet the reality on the ground in Brussels last week was more mixed. While Europe’s largest farming union, Copa-Cogeca, paints environmental measures as an enemy to farmers’ prosperity, an analysis by Carbon Brief has found that a fifth of farmer concerns were not on green issues, relating instead to high production costs, food pricing and trade-related concerns.

Other groups of farmers came out onto the streets of Brussels with a different message. They say the EU should see the protests as a sign to do more, not less, to protect the environment.

“We are very clear that as farmers we want to take action to struggle against the climate crisis,” said Morgan Ody, a farmer from Brittany who belongs to the European chapter of La Via Campesina (ECVC).

Ody travelled to Belgium with over a thousand farmers connected to Via Campesina – and other allied national smallholder farmer groups from Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany – to protest last Thursday.

Via Campesina and its smallholder allies also insist that ambitious action to address climate breakdown and biodiversity loss must go hand in hand with tackling other farmer concerns – such as low pay. Difficult working conditions, they say, are also at the root of the frustrations of many who showed up to demonstrate.

Rejection of free trade agreements and the demand for a decent income at the heart of farmers’ mobilizations in Europe

By European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) - La Via Campesina, January 25, 2024

In Germany, France, Poland, Romania, Belgium and beyond, we are seeing increasing numbers of farmers taking to the streets. Low incomes and a lack of future prospects for the vast majority of farmers is at the root of this discontent, which is largely linked to the neo-liberal policies the European Union has pursued for decades. ECVC is calling for these protests to be taken seriously and for a change in the direction of European agricultural and food policies: it is time to put an end to Free Trade Agreements and resolutely set out on the road to food sovereignty.

Huge numbers of farmers have been taking action across different European countries in recent weeks. Many farmers are struggling under the pressure of neoliberal policies that prevent fair prices. Debt and work overload are skyrocketing, while farm incomes are plummeting.

European farmers need real answers to their problems, not smoke and mirrors. We demand an immediate end to negotiations on the FTA with MERCOSUR countries and a moratorium on all other FTAs currently being negotiated. We demand the effective application of the Unfair Trading Prices (UTP) directive and a ban on selling below production costs at European level, following the example of Spain. Prices paid to farmers must cover production costs and ensure a decent income. Our incomes depend on agricultural prices, and it is unacceptable that these should be subject to financial speculation.

We therefore call for agricultural policies based on market regulation, with prices that cover production costs and public stocks. We call for sufficient budget to allow CAP subsidies to be redistributed to support the transition to an agricultural model capable of meeting the challenges of the climate and biodiversity crises. All farmers who already practice environmentally-friendly farming practices and all those who decide to embark on an agroecological, more sustainable transition process must be supported and accompanied in the long term. It is unacceptable that under the current CAP, a minority of very large farms receive hundreds of thousands of euros in public aid while the majority of European farmers receive little to no aid at all.

ECVC is concerned to see attempts from the far right to exploit and use this anger and the mobilisations to drive its own agenda, including denying climate change, calling for lower environmental standards and blaming migrant workers in rural areas, all of which has nothing to do with farmers’ interests nor improves their future prospects. On the contrary, denying the realities of the climate crisis risks trapping farmers in a succession of increasingly intense disasters, from heatwaves and droughts to floods and storms. We need to take action, and we farmers are ready to make the necessary changes to tackle environmental, climate and food problems but this will not be possible as long as we are forced to produce at low prices in a globalised and deregulated market. Similarly, migrant workers today play a fundamental role both in agricultural production and in the agri-food industry: without these workers, we would be short of labour forces in Europe to produce and process food. The rights of agricultural workers must be fully respected.

ECVC is calling on political decision-makers at European level to act quickly to respond to the anger and concerns of farmers. We need a real change in agricultural policy that puts farmers at the heart of policy-making and gives us prospects for the future. ECVC proposes real solutions to this crisis, described in our Manifesto for agricultural transition in the face of systemic climate crises.

It’s Too Hot to Keep Using Pesticides

By Harrison Watson - In These Times, August 15, 2023

Farm workers are being sickened by agrochemicals—and, due to extreme heat, by the PPE they wear to protect themselves.

It’s summer and time to take in the sunshine. But beware: because of climate change, the planet is rapidly warming. Outdoor temperatures are climbing above 100oF. Raging heat waves are causing debilitating illness and death. In some places, floods sweep through the streets. In others, precipitation is declining and water sources are evaporating. The Union of Concerned Scientists has dubbed this time of year, from May to October, the ​“danger season.”

Humans have not evolved to withstand such levels of heat stress. Still, over 2 million farm workers find themselves out in the fields. Some are suited up in heavy layers of clothing, including flannel shirts, pants, boots, gloves and coveralls. The purpose of this personal protective equipment (PPE) is to shield farm workers from the chemical threats they face from working with and around toxic pesticides and herbicides.

Each year, farmers and farm workers use billions of pounds of pesticides to suppress pests across 250 million acres of crop fields in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does work to educate farm workers and help them navigate pesticide-treated fields safely. Still, according to the National Agricultural Worker Survey nearly one-third of all farm workers do not receive the annual, mandatory training.

“So some farm workers just don’t know how harmful pesticides are,” says Mayra Reiter, director of the Occupational Safety and Health division at the organization Farmworker Justice. ​“The EPA approves chemicals because they assume that farmworkers will wear PPE, but those farm workers aren’t wearing it.”

Every year, pesticides sicken 300,000 farm workers, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. No one has an accurate count of how many of them die.

And the PPE farmworkers need to protect them from these chemicals can’t protect them from the danger sealed therein: Wrapped tight in their PPE, the heat they generate working at a feverish pace has nowhere to dissipate. In some places, a third of farm workers out in the fields suffer from heat-related illnesses every year. 

This is because many farm workers are constrained by the current wage system to ignore workplace hazards or skip water, bathroom and cooling breaks. In several states, farm workers receive ​“piece-rate” wages — that is, instead of an hourly wage, they’re paid by the bucket, bushel or piece of crop they pick. 

Roundup Caused Her Cancer, but Bayer Won’t Pay Settlement Because She’s an Undocumented Farmworker, Lawsuit Says

By Sky Chadde - In These Times, January 24, 2023

Litigation over Roundup — the main ingredient of which, glyphosate, likely causes cancer—has had a long tail. And the latest lawsuit involving the once ubiquitous household weed killer dropped Jan. 18.

In 2020, Bayer announced a $10 billion settlement over claims Roundup caused cancer. One claimant was a farmworker in Virginia, according to the lawsuit filed by Public Citizen, a nonprofit organization focused on corporate and government accountability. She said she was exposed while working for years with the weed killer on tree farms.

Originally, she was given the chance to settle using the same program that many plaintiffs used to receive payments from Bayer, but she was then rebuffed, according to the lawsuit. Because she was not a U.S. citizen, like many farmworkers, she did not qualify, according to the lawsuit.

Seven months after signing onto the settlement program, she was dropped by her lawyers and was ineligible for a settlement, according to the lawsuit. 

Public Citizen said her civil rights have been violated because she was deemed not eligible because of her citizenship status.

“Those harmed by unlawful conduct are entitled to compensation no matter their immigration status,” Michael Kirkpatrick, an attorney with Public Citizen Litigation Group, said in a press release. ​“This lawsuit calls out discrimination by both Monsanto and some trial lawyers and will help put an end to such practices.”

Exposed and at Risk: Opportunities to Strengthen Enforcement of Pesticide Regulations for Farmworker Safety

By Olivia N. Guarna - Vermont Law & Graduate School Center for Agriculture & Food Systems and Farmworker Justice , September 2022

THE USE OF PESTICIDES IS UBIQUITOUS IN OUR FOOD SYSTEM. In the United States, approximately 1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied annually across sectors. Nearly 90 percent of conventional pesticides are applied in the agricultural sector. As a result, farmworkers are routinely exposed at unusually high rates to chemicals that pose substantial risk to human health and safety. These risks are exacerbated by insufficient worker training and frequent improper handling and application.

Vermont Law and Graduate School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems released a report in 2021 entitled Essentially Unprotected, which contains a detailed overview of the landscape of pesticide laws at the federal and state level. As demonstrated in the report, there are still key gaps in existing law to sufficiently protect farmworkers. Given these significant gaps, it is particularly alarming that compliance with current protections appears woefully low. The failure to adequately enforce pesticide laws leaves farmworkers unprotected and at continued risk of injury and illness.

The system of pesticide law enforcement is complex and varies widely between states. This report seeks to explain some of the nuance reflected in the regulatory structure of enforcement while highlighting recommendations for consistency and improved health and safety outcomes. However, it is essential to note that poor compliance and enforcement are symptomatic of other issues, many of which plague farmworkers beyond pesticide exposure. For example, enforcement is considerably affected by workers underreporting exposure incidents and suspected violations due to fear of retaliation by their employers.

Many farmworkers are undocumented or on an H-2A guestworker visa and thus face fears of deportation or blacklisting if they speak out against employer abuse. Additionally, farmworkers often do not have access or resources to seek out medical attention after exposure. If they do, doctors may not be aware that their symptoms indicate pesticide poisoning or may not know how and to whom to report the incident. Even when doctors can draw the connection, not all states require that doctors notify health authorities or the state agency responsible for enforcement.e, enforcement is considerably affected by workers underreporting exposure incidents and suspected violations due to fear of retaliation by their employers.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

The path of Peasant and Popular Feminism in La Via Campesina

By various - La Via Campesina, June 8, 2021

La Via Campesina, presents the publication “The Path of Peasant and Popular Feminism in La Via Campesina” with the aim of strengthening the training processes of the Movement and to build Peasant and Popular Feminism as a political tool against oppression and violence. This document compiles the historical knowledge accumulated by Peasant and Popular Feminism in identifying the political challenges that exist in the historical moment that we live in, and thus contribute to the analysis and collective reflections to build a plural movement that respects diversities.

The publication is split into four parts: the first one looks back at the conquests of women inside LVC, up to Peasant and Popular Feminism as something to be built collectively. The second chapter highlights the role of women in the Peasants’ Rights Declaration adopted at the UN and highlights the rights achieved with this tool. The third chapter focuses on La Via Campesina’s Global Campaign “End Violence against Women”, the way the campaign is organized and its experience in different territories. Finally, in the last chapter in order to further expand reflections and discussions, we provide a virtual toolbox that will facilitate training and communication processes.

Since its very beginning La Via Campesina has sought to encourage the participation of rural women at all levels of action, power and representation in the building of an international movement that is broad, democratic, politically and socially committed to the defense of peasant agriculture, Food Sovereignty, the struggle for land, justice, equality and to eradicate all forms of gender discrimination and violence.

Recognizing the contribution and participation of women in member organizations has not been an easy task, notably because of patriarchy and the sexism rooted in societies. These have a negative impact even on the practices of comrades and of the organizations that belong to the movement. LVC’s women speak of two revolutions: one that burdens problems with gender relations within the movement, and a broader one aimed at making a revolution inside societies for justice, equity and the emancipation of human beings.

Read the text (PDF).

Essentially Unprotected: A Focus on Farmworker Health Laws and Policies Addressing Pesticide Exposure and Heat-Related Illness

By Laurie J. Beyranevand, et. al. - Vermont Law & Graduate School Center for Agriculture & Food Systems and Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, May 2021

FARMWORKERS ARE THE FOUNDATION of a trillion-dollar industry in the United States yet face a level of occupational risk unrivaled by most workers. Despite their prominence within the nation’s food system, farmworkers are largely invisible to most Americans, as are their sacrifces and challenges. To some degree, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the country to reckon with the inhumane realities of food production; farmworkers were quickly deemed essential. At the same time, farmworkers contracted the coronavirus at high rates due to the lack of enforceable COVID safety standards, crowded and unsafe working and housing conditions, and delayed federal assistance. As our nation begins to reckon with its long history of pervasive and systemic racism, law- and policymakers must confront the fact that the vast majority of farmworkers are foreign born, identify as Hispanic or Latino/a, are not native English speakers, earn low wages, and have long worked under extraordinarily hazardous conditions. A smaller percentage of farmworkers identify as Indigenous with some identifying an Indigenous language as the one in which they are most comfortable speaking while some may speak a language without a consistent written form, which makes reading and writing in any language impossible. Over half of farmworkers are either undocumented or migrant workers thereby limiting their labor rights,10 as well as their willingness to exercise the limited rights they possess to report health and safety violations for fear of retaliation through immigration enforcement. Estimates suggest approximately 524,000 farmworkers are under the age of 18.

Farmworkers face many different workplace hazards including injury from heavy machinery and repetitive motion, and illness from exposure to zoonotic disease, pesticides, and heat. For migrant farmworker women, signi%cant reproductive health issues are common. Children working in agriculture amount to less than 5.5 percent of working children in the country yet suffered 52 percent of work-related fatalities. Additionally, farmworkers often lack access to or cannot a(ord healthcare both because they earn extraordinarily low wages and due to rampant wage theft. Understandably, they may be reluctant to raise workplace concerns with their employers due to fear of retaliation. Climate change has exacerbated some of these conditions due to extreme heat and increased pesticide usage to combat the rising spread of pests.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Essential and in Crisis: A Review of the Public Health Threats Facing Farmworkers in the US

By Sarah Goldman, Anna Aspenson, Prashasti Bhatnagar, and Robert Martin - Vermont Law & Graduate School Center for Agriculture & Food Systems and Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, May 2021

On March 19, 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, the federal government declared farmworkers “essential workers.”1 From California to New York, the same communities called upon to keep Americans fed during an unprecedented period of sickness and uncertainty also suffered some of the most horrific Covid-19 infection and fatality rates. While individuals across the country grappled with the devastating impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, farmworkers throughout the United States (US) were among those the US government called upon to risk their health and the health of their communities in order to keep groceries on the shelves for millions of Americans.

Despite the government’s public acknowledgement of the essential role that farmworkers fill in our food system, farmworkers were denied the most basic public health protections. This incongruity was nothing new. Americans have long relied on the skilled and arduous labor of farmworkers to fuel our food system, while the US government and agricultural employers fail to provide protection or address systemic problems that make workers vulnerable to sickness.

Moreover, Covid-19 has only exacerbated existing inequities in our food system. Any future shocks to the US food system could leave farmworkers further exposed to exploitation and health risks. In this report, which is an update to the Center’s 2017 report, “Public Health, Immigration Reform, and Food System Change,” we review available research on a variety of public health threats that farmworkers face. We demonstrate how these health burdens are, in part, the result of laws, policies and practices that are intentionally designed to limit this workforce’s resources and recourse to fight against unsafe working conditions.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).


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