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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).

Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis

By Darrin Qualman - National Farmers Union, November 2019

The farm crisis is real, as is the climate crisis. Left unchecked, the climate crisis will dramatically deepen the income crisis on Canada’s farms as farmers struggle to deal with continued warming, more intense storms, and increasingly unpredictable weather. It is clear that climate change represents a major challenge to agriculture, but it also represents an opportunity.

Farmers and policymakers are encouraged to recognize that we are facing an existential crisis, which means that all of our options must be on the table for consideration, even if they are uncomfortable to consider. If we commit to an open and honest conversation about the causes and effects of climate change and how they are intertwined with our agricultural sector, we also take the first steps towards a transition that will benefit us all.

Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis does not claim to have all the answers. Both the climate crisis and the farm crisis are so complex that no single report can provide all the answers. However, this report does have many answers — some of which could be implemented right away. Others provide a starting point to opening up the climate conversation in the agricultural sector. Options that will work for different geographic locations, soil types, or types of farms will be explored, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Read the text (link).

Food for Health Manifesto

By Renata Alleva, et. al. - Navdanya International, 2019

The Food for Health Manifesto aims to give voice, hope and future to all those who wish to commit themselves to act and consume in keeping with a new sustainable food for health paradigm. Additionally, this Manifesto is intended to be used as a tool to help mobilize the urgent transition to local, ecological and diversified food systems. The Manifesto asserts that health, starting with the soil, to plants, animals and humans must be the organizing principle and the aim of agriculture, commerce, science, of our lives and of international trade and aims to create convergence between consumers, producers and stakeholders for a common vision of sustainable development in line with the Millenium Development Goals.

Read the report (Link).

EPA Moves To Gut Agricultural Worker Protection Standards

By Earth Justice - Common Dreams, December 14, 2017

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will revise crucial protections for more than two million farm workers and pesticide applicators by the federal Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule.

The WPS establishes a minimum age of 18 for workers who mix, load, and apply pesticides; increases the frequency of worker safety training from once every five years to every year; improves the content and quality of worker safety trainings; and provides anti-retaliation protections and the right of a farm worker to request pesticide-application information via a designated representative.

The EPA also announced the reconsideration of the minimum age requirements established by the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule, which sets training and certification requirements for Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs), the most toxic chemicals in the market. There are roughly half a million child farm workers in the United States.

From Uniformity to Diversty: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems

By Emile A. Frison - International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems - June 2016

Today’s food and farming systems have succeeded in supplying large volumes of foods to global markets, but are generating negative outcomes on multiple fronts: widespread degradation of land, water and ecosystems; high GHG emissions; biodiversity losses; persistent hunger and micro-nutrient deficiencies alongside the rapid rise of obesity and diet-related diseases; and livelihood stresses for farmers around the world.

Many of these problems are linked specifically to ‘industrial agriculture’: the input-intensive crop monocultures and industrial-scale feedlots that now dominate farming landscapes. The uniformity at the heart of these systems, and their reliance on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and preventive use of antibiotics, leads systematically to negative outcomes and vulnerabilities.

Industrial agriculture and the ‘industrial food systems’ that have developed around it are locked in place by a series of vicious cycles. For example, the way food systems are currently structured allows value to accrue to a limited number of actors, reinforcing their economic and political power, and thus their ability to influence the governance of food systems.

Tweaking practices can improve some of the specific outcomes of industrial agriculture, but will not provide long-term solutions to the multiple problems it generates.

What is required is a fundamentally different model of agriculture based on diversifying farms and farming landscapes, replacing chemical inputs, optimizing biodiversity and stimulating interactions between different species, as part of holistic strategies to build long-term fertility, healthy agro-ecosystems and secure livelihoods, i.e. ‘diversified agroecological systems’.

There is growing evidence that these systems keep carbon in the ground, support biodiversity, rebuild soil fertility and sustain yields over time, providing a basis for secure farm livelihoods.

Data shows that these systems can compete with industrial agriculture in terms of total outputs, performing particularly strongly under environmental stress, and delivering production increases in the places where additional food is desperately needed. Diversified agroecological systems can also pave the way for diverse diets and improved health.

Change is already happening. Industrial food systems are being challenged on multiple fronts, from new forms of cooperation and knowledge-creation to the development of new market relationships that bypass conventional retail circuits.

Political incentives must be shifted in order for these alternatives to emerge beyond the margins. A series of modest steps can collectively shift the centre of gravity in food systems.

Read the report (PDF).


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