Opportunities and threats, these are the times we live in and farmworkers’ lives are in the balance as policies change rapidly while Congress and the Administration tinker with immigration policies that have real world and devastating impacts for millions of people in our communities.
The opportunity is the Agricultural Worker Program Act, sponsored by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) in the House of Representatives and by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) in the Senate. This bill, known as the Blue Card Bill, would allow adjusted status to farmworkers who meet certain eligibility requirements, and a path to permanent residence status to those farmworkers currently living and working in the U.S. The Blue Card bill would allow farmworkers to maintain economic stability for their families and afford them the ability to participate more fully in our economy, while also allowing growers access to a more stable, more skilled, happier and healthier workforce.
The threat comes from a recent vote by the House Appropriations Committee to expand the H2A visa program for farmworkers to include yearlong work periods, overriding the current program that limits “guestworkers” to nine month work contracts. This expansion of the H2A visa program is being squeezed through by placing it as an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security spending bill, limiting House debate on the bill and making it more difficult for those opposed to vote against it. Guestworker programs often leave farmworkers unprotected. The H2A visa, as with other guestworker programs, has a legacy of abuses against workers who are brought to this country to harvest our nation’s crops. In addition, workers who have been living and working in agriculture for years, if not decades, are displaced by H2A workers, leaving tens of thousands of hardworking men and women without a livelihood and, in some cases, with no place to live. This means displacement, inadequate wages, and inability to integrate into the national economy for the hardworking families in our communities.
The Trump Administration has made it a priority to make immigrants scapegoats of America’s problems, despite their continued contributions to make our economy grow. In a recent article on Politico.com, Eliana Johnson and Josh Dawsey report Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) are working with White House aide Stephen Miller to slash the number of immigrants allowed into the country annually. Met with agricultural concerns for a decrease in the labor pool, the Administration in conjunction with its Mexican counterpart, have taken steps to make guestworker programs more widespread, as was reported in the National Public Radio and Reuters earlier this month..
Farmworkers do the hard work that feeds the rest of us in this country. FWAF stands in opposition to the House of Representatives DHS Spending Bill in the Appropriations Committee and in support of the Agricultural Worker Program Act. We urge all our members, partners, and allies to voice their support for the Blue Card AWPA of 2017 to their elected representatives in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. Thank you for your support.
By Ted Goldberg
JULY 6, 2017
Advocates for farmworkers on both coasts and labor experts are expressing concern about the two dozen agricultural employees who were hospitalized last month in Salinas and Watsonville in a span of one week after fungicides and insecticides apparently drifted on to the fields where they were working.
Six raspberry pickers working near State Route 152 got sick and were rushed to Watsonville Community Hospital on June 29. A week earlier 18 celery workers were taken to the Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System’s emergency room after some of them became ill.
Those cases came less than two months after more than 50 farmworkers were reportedly exposed to a pesticide drift southwest of Bakersfield that made some of them sick.
“Farmworkers in so many ways have become invisible. They put our food on the table, yet their well-being is often below the radar,” said UC Berkeley professor Harley Shaiken, who specializes in labor issues. “To have these kinds of incidents, where they are affected by potentially carcinogenic chemicals in the field, is disturbing.”
More than 1,000 people in California were sickened by pesticide exposure in 2014, the most recent year for which the Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) has such data. That year there were 51 confirmed cases in Santa Cruz County and 39 in Monterey County.
While it’s not uncommon for individual agricultural employees to become ill from chemical exposure, the recent cases involving larger numbers of workers alarmed advocates.
“Anytime a group of people are poisoned, that’s a concern,” said Margaret Reeves, senior scientist at the Oakland-based Pesticide Action Network.
The chemicals that may have gotten workers sick in the Watsonville case were Pristine Fungicide, Rally 40WSP, DiPel-DF and Widespread Max.
Some of those chemicals can interfere with reproductive and endocrine systems and can irritate skin and eyes, according to Reeves.
“Pesticides travel far from where they’re applied in concentrations that can cause people to get sick or even, over a long time, chronically ill permanently,” said Mark Weller, co-director of Californians for Pesticide Reform. “The same kind of thing could have happened near a school.”
“It’s very sad,” said Jeannie Economos, an activist at the Farmworker Association of Florida. “Some of these pesticides can cause long-term health consequences.”
The incidents in Watsonville and Salinas are under investigation by the agricultural commissioners in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
In California, the state’s division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) does not investigate incidents in which farmworkers get sick from chemical releases.
A spokesman for the Department of Pesticide Regulation emphasizes that it’s protocol for county agricultural commissioners, not state regulators, to lead investigations into such cases.
In the Watsonville incident, Santa Cruz County agricultural commissioner Juan Hidalgo, who’s leading that county’s probe, is refusing to release the name of the company under investigation.
Hidalgo said Wednesday that his office is conducting interviews into the incident.
“We hope to conclude interviews late next week, at which point I would be able to release the name of the operation under investigation,” he said.
That lack of disclosure outraged activists and experts.
“That is a key piece of information that one would expect to be able to have access to,” said Reeves of the Pesticide Action Network.
“I was surprised that an investigative agency was not providing the name of the firm,” UC’s Shaiken said. “Transparency is essential in any investigation of this type. Knowing the identity of the company is important.”
“It shows that the growers are on the defensive,” said Economos at the Farmworker Association of Florida.
In Monterey County the agricultural commissioner early on identified Tanimura & Antle as the company it’s investigating in connection with the incident that hospitalized 18 celery workers on June 22.
A spokeswoman for the company said this week that the firm is eager to see the results of the investigation.
“The health and safety of our workers is our primary concern,” said Samantha Cabaluna.
She noted that while 18 workers were hospitalized, not all of them showed symptoms of exposure.
The California Farm Bureau Federation, an industry group that represents farmers and ranchers in almost every county of the state, says it supports “prompt, consistent penalties for incidents in which pesticides are misused in ways that cause public or environmental injury,” according to the organization’s spokesman, Dave Kranz.
“Our organization also supports continuing education of pest control advisers and applicators in the safe and effective use of pesticides. Applicators and field employees currently undergo training on an annual basis,” Kranz said.
Courtesy of KQED and Ted Goldberg: Original post can be found here.
Delays threatens the life of workers and average Americans
Farmworker and health organizations represented by Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Wednesday for delaying for a year implementation of the revised Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule, which includes much needed requirements like mandatory age minimums, as well as better training for pesticide applicators to protect workers and the public from poisoning by the most toxic pesticides.
First enacted in 1974, the CPA rule ensures those who handle the most dangerous pesticides are properly trained and certified before they apply them. New common-sense protections—which have now been delayed until May 2018—require pesticide applicators to be at least 18-years-old and improve the quality of training materials. The updated CPA rule also says applicators must be able to read and write, and increases the frequency of applicator safety trainings.
According to the EPA, there are about 1 million certified applicators nationwide. Before delaying implementation, the agency said the revised rule could prevent some 1,000 acute poisonings every year.
“EPA’s mission is to protect all Americans from significant risks to human health and yet it’s delaying life-saving information and training for the workers who handle the most toxic pesticides in the country,” said Eve C. Gartner, Earthjustice attorney. “This delay jeopardizes everyone’s health and safety.”
After years of reviews, EPA published the revised CPA Rule on January 4, updating for the first time in years how applicators of restricted use pesticides, or RUPs, are certified. RUPs are the most toxic and dangerous pesticides on the market and can cause humans serious injury or death if they are improperly handled. The rule was scheduled to go into effect March 6, but the Trump Administration delayed it as it placed a mandatory freeze on all regulations coming out of federal agencies.
"It's clear that field workers need these protections now, not later. For years we’ve put mandatory age minimums on things like alcohol, or tobacco, and yet we still let minors handle the most dangerous pesticides or won’t make sure if certified applicators can read and write,” said Erik Nicholson, national vice president of the United Farm Workers. “The Trump Administration is failing to safeguard our communities from preventable risks in the benefit of corporate profit."
“When I was pregnant with my third child, I was mixing and handling pesticides in a local nursery. I was never given proper training, or personal protective equipment, nor was I under the supervision of a certified applicator,” said Yesica Ramirez of the Farmworker Association of Florida. “My baby was born with craniosynostosis, a birth defect, plus, eczema, and sleep apnea. I will never know if the pesticides caused this, but I do know that it is important to have stronger regulations for certified applicators to protect the health of our farmworkers and our families.”
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, comes a month after the EPA announced a one-year delay to the rule, while offering the public just 4 days to comment on the move. Delay means minors or poorly trained applicators can continue to handle some of the most toxic pesticides in agricultural, commercial and residential settings, putting themselves and the public at risk.
"We need to do everything in our power to protect farmworkers from dangerous pesticides, the goal of this litigation is to precisely do that," said Ramon Ramirez, president of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste.
When the EPA adopted the rule, it pointed to various tragic incidents where children died or were seriously injured when poorly trained applicators misused highly toxic pesticides. The agency concluded stronger standards for those applying RUPs will reduce risks to workers and help protect communities and the environment from toxic harms. Yet in delaying the rule, EPA refused to address these findings, and it failed to explain to the public how a delay would not cause unreasonable risks to people.
“The CPA rule provides basic, yet critical safety and training requirements for applicators. We can’t delay rules that can save lives,” said Anne Katten of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.
There’s been high profile pesticide poisonings that could have been prevented by more stringent protections for public health. Just in 2015 there were two poisoning incidents, one in the U.S. Virgin Islands and another one in Palm City, Florida, which exemplify the need for the updated CPA rule. In both cases children suffered serious brain injuries stemming from the gross errors of pesticide applicators.
"There is no doubt whatsoever that more detailed annual training is essential to provide the protections that pesticide applicators and their families need," said Margaret Reeves, senior scientist at the Pesticide Action Network North America.
“There is no justification for delaying common sense measures to improve. Each year of delay will result in more poisonings and deaths,” said Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at Farmworker Justice.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Farmworker Association of Florida, United Farm Workers, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and Pesticide Action Network North America.
Twenty years of work by farmworker organizations and farmworker advocates around the country, including the Farmworker Association of Florida, are under attack by the new administration at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the recent Executive Order to “reduce regulatory burden.” Successes for farmworker health and safety achieved under the Obama Administration are being undermined, putting farmworkers at increased risk of exposure to known toxic chemical pesticides. We will not quietly accept these roll-backs, when we know the devastating consequences that exposure to pesticides has on farmworkers and their families.
WPS – Twenty years of work under threat and needless delay! In 2015, twenty years after the first regulatory reforms to give farmworkers specific rights to protection from pesticide exposure, the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) was updated and greatly improved by the EPA to include important new protective provisions, including mandated annual trainings with expanded content and a minimum age of 18 for handling agricultural pesticides. Sadly, putting the urging of industry and state agricultural agencies over science and public health, EPA issued a memo on May 22nd approving a delay of the new, more protective WPS provisions, even though there had been an exhaustive public comment period in 2015, and EPA officials themselves had previously acknowledged the need for and importance of these new regulations. The impact of this cannot be overstated. Every day, farmworkers risk their health to grow and harvest the food the rest of us eat. They deserve the regulations that can help protect their and their children’s health, not a rollback of two decades of work. Regulations are not a “regulatory burden” but a way to keep farmworkers safe.
CPA – Forty years too long; no need for further delays! The Certified Pesticide Applicator (CPA) rule has not been updated in close to 40 years. Yet, in a process started under the previous administration, the regulations that govern the training and certification of pesticide applicators of Restricted Use (the most toxic) Pesticides or RUPs went through the formal comment and review process, resulting in a new rule adopted in January 2017. The new rule would standardize training and certification across different states, and ensure a more well-informed and trained pesticide applicator workforce. This would translate into better protections for farmworkers, rural and residential communities, our water and our environment. In an unprecedented move, the EPA reversed course, announced three delays to the implementation of the new rule, with this last announcement delaying the rule for over one year. The public had a mere five days! to make comment on the delay. The rule has a 3-year phase in period to allow all states the time to comply, making any delay entirely unnecessary. For more information read.
PRIA – A program rollback undermines collaboration. The Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA) is a program, begun in 2003, that forged collaboration between industry, farmworkers and advocates to direct industry fees to fund programs that protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure. That collaboration between unlikely partners is now under threat of collapse, thanks to moves by the new Administration to slash the budget of the EPA Office of Pesticide Programs. Funds to oversee, implement and enforce the other regulations that protect farmworkers could be drastically cut, leaving the responsibility to the states, many of which do not have sufficient resources to implement these programs. This threatens the health and well-being of farmworkers, in addition to our public health system, our food and our environment. The U.S. Senate must reauthorize PRIA for the sake of everyone in the nation.
Chlorpyrifos – The science is clear; chlorpyrifos harms children! Though it was banned for residential use in 2001 because of its known neurodevelopmental effects on children, chlorpyrifos has still been permitted for use in agriculture, where farmworkers and their children have been exposed for decades and even generations to this toxic pesticide. The science is clear – chlorpyrifos, commonly known as Dursban and Lorsban – can cause learning disabilities, ADHD, motor skills deficits among other things in children exposed in utero and/or to residues of the pesticide. At long last, EPA in 2016 agreed that the science was overwhelming and agreed to ban all food uses of the pesticide. While this decision was focused on protecting the public from consumption of the chemical on fruits and vegetables, farmworkers harvesting the produce would have been beneficiaries of the new rule. In a move that contradicts the mountain of scientific evidence of its dangers, the new EPA Administrator has reversed course, ignoring the science and public outcry, electing instead to continue the contamination of our food, and the threats to farmworker and farmworker children’s health. For more information on Chlorpyifos read this and this.
In the face of these four outrages, the Farmworker Association of Florida will push back against these decisions that are harmful to the men and women and families who feed our nation.
We will be calling on all our supporters to stand with us and many, many others to send a strong message that these decisions are totally unacceptable to the American public. We can do it! Yes, we can! Sí, Se Puede!
The Farmworker Association of Florida helped organize a rally and march in Apopka and in Homestead on May 1st for worker and immigrant rights in solidarity with actions all around the country demanding just treatment and respect for immigrants and workers in the U.S.
Working with Mi Familia Vota and Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka, over 300 community members and supporters gathered at a local park and marched to and around Apopka City Hall chanting “Sí, Se Puede” and “We Are Here to Stay.” Speakers at the rally included representatives from Central Florida Jobs with Justice, Youth and Young Adult Network of National Farm Worker Ministry, Farmworker Self-Help, and Organize Florida, among others.
In Homestead, FWAF worked with WeCount! to energize and turn out workers and supporters to raise their voices in opposition to the harsh tactics and anti-immigrant rhetoric of the new administration that is threatening to tear families apart and rend the fabric of the nation. Too many families already have experienced the tragic heartbreak of detention and deportation that is separating children from their parents with gut-wrenching trauma.
The actions on May 1st were to send a message and to galvanize support for upholding the “dignity and justice for all”, that is part of the pledge of these United States of America.
Monsanto was accused of harming the environment and violating human rights and health on Tuesday (4/18) by an informal peoples tribunal led by five international judges. The tribunal was held over the course of two days at The Hague where the panel of judges heard testimonies from approximately 30 witnesses from across the globe. One of the questions presented to the judges asked their opinion on whether Monsanto was engaging in practices that violate the rights to safe food, high standards of health, and a safe environment.
The tribunal released the statement that “Monsanto’s activities and products caused damage to soil, water, and the environment more generally”. The tribunal went on further to directly urge international lawmakers to “precisely and clearly assert the protection of the environment and the crime of ecocide.” According to the tribunal, if ecocide was actually added into the letter of international law, facts in this report alone could land Monsanto with the International Crime Courts (ICC) jurisdiction.
Farmworkers need protection from the pesticides that are used in the fields, orchards, greenhouses, and groves across the country and around the world. Transition away from intensive pesticide use to more sustainable and agroecological forms of agriculture is the only solution to protect human health and the environment.
April 17th is the International Day of Peasant's Struggle and the international farmers' movement La Via Campesina calls all its members and allies to mobilize! The Farmworker Association of Florida stands in solidarity and will be mobilizing all five offices for the day.
We mobilize April 17th because on this date in "1996, 19 peasants were killed when military police in the Amazonian State of Pará in Brazil attacked a large number of members of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) who were blockading a highway in order to demand agrarian reform. La Via Campesina, then declared April 17th to be the International Day of Farmers' and Peasants' Struggle."
This year, La Via Campesina wants "the world to know that peasants and other people working in rural areas have been working very hard for their rights. The rights of peasants initiative, which La Via Campesina started 17 years ago, now is in advanced process within the United Nations towards a Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. This declaration, if approved, will create an international legal instrument to protect the rights of and draw attention to the threats and discrimination suffered by peasants and other people working in rural areas."
A delegation from the Farmworker Association recently returned from trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico to strengthen our connections in the agroecology movement. The group was hosted by Organizacion Boricua, and shared their experiences, stories of struggle, and their successes. Working side by side on a member's agroecological farm, it became clear that while contexts throughout the world differ, everywhere the struggle is one. So today we recognize this movement's resiliency, power, and the work done to reinforce food sovereignty, the fight against climate change and the conservation of biodiversity; to fight for a genuine agrarian reform and a better protection against land-grabbing; continue to conserve, use, and exchange our seeds; and strengthen the solidarity among ourselves!
Two days before the annual celebration of the birthday of Cesar Chavez, the Environmental Protection Agency decided that farmworkers’ and children’s health can continue to be threatened by a harmful pesticide, while the agency continues its further study. Chlorpyrifos, commonly known as Dursban and Lorsban, was banned for residential use some 17 years ago because studies showed it was harmful to children’s health. Yet, chlorpyrifos continues to be used in agriculture, in spite of the fact that scientific studies of children exposed to the pesticide experience learning disabilities, ADHD, neurodevelopmental problems and even autism at much higher rates than the general population.
In 2007, Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) petitioned EPA to ban the pesticide, yet its use has only increased over the past decade. The EPA’s own studies have determined that this pesticide at very low levels can cause irreparable harm and damage to children’s developing brains. Farmworker children are particularly at risk, since they are exposed to pesticide drift and to residues found in and around the home, in vehicles, on clothes and toys, even in their food.
Last month’s EPA decision is being met by a fierce resistance by a coalition of organizations, which includes the Farmworker Association of Florida, and is led by attorneys at Earthjustice. They are petitioning the 9th Circuit to “establish a 30-day deadline for EPA to act on its prior findings that chlorpyrifos is unsafe and to set other deadlines for the cancellation process for the chemical.” See the article here.
“EPA’s refusal to ban this dangerous pesticide is unconscionable,” said Patti Goldman, the Earthjustice managing attorney handling the case. “EPA is defying its legal obligation to protect children from unsafe pesticides. We will be going back and asking the court to order EPA to take action now, rather than in 5 more years.”
Please join us in celebrating the 18th annual National Farmworker Awareness Week (NFAW) from March 24-31, 2017! This is a week to raise awareness about farmworker conditions, honor their contributions to our communities and raise awareness of farmworker issues by holding events on college campuses and in the community! Every year, NFAW is planned to coincide with the birthday of American labor leader and civil rights activist, Cesar Chavez, born March 31, 1927.
National Farmworker Awareness Week serves an important purpose for all of us. This week raises awareness about the irreplaceable value that farmworkers add to our lives and communities. The hard work of farmworkers puts food in our grocery stores, in our restaurants and on our tables! This week also raises awareness about the many injustices and appalling lack of federal and state protections for farmworkers, who are not only an economic powerhouse but are our family, friends and neighbors as well.
During this year’s celebration, Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF) is partnering with students at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, to organize several events on-campus designed to raise student awareness about farmworkers and the work of Farmworker Association of Florida. Events include an art exhibit, documentary showing followed by discussion, a farmer’s market, a farmworker bandana display, the opportunity for pro-farmworker and immigration emails to Senator Marco Rubio via a laptop station and the display of FWAF literature. Long sleeve t-shirt and monetary donations will also be collected for the benefit of FWAF.
Again, please join us in honoring farmworkers this upcoming week! Thank you and thank a farmworker!
In the current political climate, many of the things that we have worked for over the years and for decades are coming under attack. The progress we have made and the wins we have collectively achieved may be reversed or undermined in the coming year, leaving farmworkers in our communities ever more vulnerable and at risk, not only to harsh living and working conditions, but to detention, deportation and family separation. Fear and anxiety are affecting the way farmworkers are able to live their lives and this is affecting their health. For many, the landscape of the future looks uncertain, if not bleak.
Historically, farmworkers have had to push back against an agricultural system that exploits their labor and gives them little back in return. Farmworker movements, organizations and unions have empowered workers to fight for better wages, working conditions, housing and health and safety. But, conventional agriculture has grown ever larger and more powerful, as it relies on practices that exploit the environment and the workers who make our food supply possible.
Resistance takes on a new form! Hope comes in the form of communities resisting the dominant agriculture paradigm and putting power back in the hands of people. A new report, just released last week by WhyHunger and entitled “Through Her Eyes” follows the work of organizations and individuals that are challenging our current agricultural system by promoting and adopting the principle of “food sovereignty.” It portrays the “struggle for a new world order that centers [around] the rights of women to live freely and safely, and to lead in envisioning and crafting a world void of hunger and violence.”
Two of the Farmworker Association of Florida’s women leaders, staff members and organizers are featured in the report, sharing their personal experiences as farmworkers and the movement for resistance against and transformation of the way we do agriculture in the United States. Communities gain hope and dignity, empowerment and respect through a form of resistance that gives power back to the people. Read the report here:
Following the nursery work, we all went back to the Farmworker Association office and met with a former farmworker of the Lake Apopka area, who had worked on the vegetable farms from the mid-1960s until the farms were closed by the state in 1998. She told us about her work in fields of cabbage, lettuce, and kale and how there were good days of quick work for an early end and bad days with lightning, muck storms, sunburns, snakes, and cold weather. The former farmworker also talked about being sprayed by planes with pesticides and getting rashes, as well as breathing problems from the chemicals, but how none of the farmworkers knew about the health issues that would arise from pesticide contact. Today this former worker deals with multiple health issues and lost many friends and family to lupus, stomach cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, and lung disease.
She finished her talk about “feeding America” and ending with “keep on fighting until I die.”
At the end of a full day of working at the nursery, listening to a farmworker’s story, and touring around Lake Apopka, the entire experience was eye opening for many who had never heard of the issues farmworkers experience. Finally Jeannie Economos apologized to our entire group for the problems her generation has left to our generation to fix. This definitely resonated with many students, as they continued to talk about her final words on the car ride back to Rollins College.
Over 300 food and farm groups Urge Jeff Sessions to oppose agricultural mega- mergers
Call on new DOJ leader to put farmer, consumer, worker interests above corporations
(Washington, D.C.)— Nearly 325 farming, beekeeping, farmworker, religious, food safety, and conservation advocacy groups today urged the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a thorough investigation into the proposed mergers of the world’s largest agrochemical and seed companies. Groups urged Jeff Sessions, the new Attorney General, to enjoin the mergers of Dow Chemical with DuPont, Monsanto with Bayer AG, and Syngenta with ChemChina on the grounds that they will drive up food and farming costs, threaten global food security, curtail innovation, threaten the health of farmworkers, and limit farmer choice. This letter comes on the heels of the Senate’s vote to confirm Senator Sessions to be the head of the Department of Justice. The letter was also delivered today to members of Congress and state attorneys general.
The letter points to the adverse and wide-ranging consequences of these mergers stating that, “Conglomerates of such massive scale, breadth and reach, such as those proposed by these mergers, pose a real risk to our economy, to our agricultural sector, to public health, to food security, to the environment and to the general health of the agricultural and food business climate. Dominance of this magnitude can pose both domestic and international consequences that would be irreversible, once set in motion.”
Farmers and their allies across the country implored the new Attorney General to block the merger.
"Farmers across the country know that these mergers will result in fewer options and higher prices for the inputs we rely on. Already, a third of what a farmer makes for a corn harvest goes to pay for the seed alone; in the end there is nothing left for the farm family. We’ve seen what happens when too few companies control too much of the market, and these mergers would only make a bad situation worse,” said Mike Weaver, president, Organization for Competitive Markets.
"The decline in the quality of plant breeding for conventional varieties and the corresponding increase in the use of crop chemicals will continue, as the merged companies narrow their interests yet further to a few number of products likely to bring in the greatest profit for those biotech companies. The past two decades have shown us that herbicide-resistant GMO seeds have been the favorite for companies like Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta because they boost the sale of pesticides, "said Aaron Lehman, a grain farmer and president of Iowa Farmers Union.
“These agrichemical company mergers would be harmful for our environment, farmers and the American public,” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner, Friends of the Earth. “We call on Sessions to put the interests of the American people, workers and farmers above the interests of mega corporations and conduct an independent review process free of political interference.”
“These mergers will hurt honey bees and native pollinators by making it harder for farmers to secure diverse seeds that are not coated in bee-killing pesticides or engineered to withstand multiple doses of herbicide applications,” said Michele Colopy, program director, Pollinator Stewardship Council, a national group that representing beekeepers and beekeeping organizations. “This merger makes it harder for farmers to gain access to the seeds they need to farm more sustainably. Seeds produced by a pesticide company may be engineered to cope with the pesticides, but honey bees cannot take increased pesticide exposure.”
“These mergers pose an ever greater threat to the health, livelihoods and human rights of farmworkers who are on the front lines of toxic agricultural chemical exposure,” said Jeannie Economos, Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator, Farmworker Association of Florida. “These proposed mergers only puts more power and influence on the side of agribusiness, which contributes to but does nothing to pay for the health impacts on families of the chemicals they produce. People should not pay with their health and lives for the profits of these mega-corporations.”
"The concentrated corporate control of seed markets threatens farmers’ traditional practices of developing, saving and exchanging locally-adapted seed in the United States and around the world, practices that support the biological diversity and ecological resilience critical to addressing local and global food needs," said farmer Denise O'Brien, founder of Women's Food and Agriculture Network and Pesticide Action Network (PAN) North America board vice-president.
If all three deals were to close, the newly created companies would control nearly 70 percent of the world’s pesticide market, more than 61 percent of commercial seed sales and 80 percent of the U.S. corn-seed market.
“A Bayer AG-Monsanto company would control 70 percent of the Southeast cottonseed market, which would increase the price by over 18 percent. Soy and corn prices would also rise, putting farmers’ livelihoods at risk even more,” said Mississippi farmer Ben Burkett, National Family Farm Coalition president and Federation of Southern Cooperatives representative.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Senator Sessions about his views on these mergers and his approach to anti-trust matters during his confirmation hearings. His answers were evasive and vague.
Groups expressed concern during the confirmation process that Senator Sessions would allow politics to interfere with the review of these mergers; especially given Donald Trump’s meeting with Bayer and Monsanto Executives in January and Trump’s appointment of Dow CEO Andrew Liveris to lead the American Manufacturers Council in December.
Read the letter to Jeff Sessions, Attorney General HERE.
With the advent of a new administration in Washington, D.C., the Farmworker Association of Florida re-asserts its long-standing conviction and commitment to protect the dignity, civil liberties, and human rights of farmworkers and immigrants in Florida and around the country. We stand in solidarity with our Brothers and Sisters, including people of color, families in rural communities, those of diverse religious beliefs and sexual orientation, those living in environmental justice communities, as well as those experiencing discrimination and exploitation in the workplace based on their immigration status, gender, disability, or who are experiencing abuse based on who they are.
As it has throughout its history, FWAF continues to defend the most vulnerable in our communities against oppression and exploitation, even as we renew our defense of the natural environment against resource depletion and contamination. We recognize that we are one people dependent on a healthy and robust environment that sustains us all. Negative attacks and rhetoric serve only to divide us from one another. We affirm the need to protect, to heal and to resist any attempts to roll back decades of progress toward greater equality, diversity, justice and understanding in our country.
Following the precept of Martin Luther King, Jr., that “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” we call upon our members and sympathizers to stay vigilant and critical of policies, laws, and actions that could harm our communities. Going forward into this new era, we rally our courage and our strength, following the inspirational words of Cesar Chavez: “Sí, Se Puede!” “Yes, We Can”! Join us! We can do it together! And, together, we must!
Building on the Past; Moving into the Future
As we approach the end of 2016 and look to the future in 2017, we reflect on the successes we have had this year and the challenges we face ahead. We have seen progress on the plans for the implementation of the new EPA Worker Protection Standard (WPS) for improved health and safety for farmworkers. Our agroecology program continues to expand and advance, even as we plan to break ground in January on a new community garden in Apopka. Our Los Girasoles heat stress study begins its third year of studying the impacts of heat exposure on farmworkers’ health. We continue to document cases of wage theft of workers, and our vocational rehabilitation program is doing important outreach to farmworkers in seven counties in Florida.
During 2017, FWAF received the U.S. Food Sovereignty Award by the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance; the Steve Shore Catalyst Award from the East Coast Migrant Stream Forum; and FWAF co-founder, Tirso Moreno, was honored for his decades of work for justice for farmworkers by Farmworker Justice at their annual Wine and Jazz Fest in Washington, D.C. Our staff members have held health fairs, conducted pesticide trainings for close to 500 farmworkers, and organized community cultural events at our offices in five areas of the state. We are always busy at FWAF, and we expect 2017 to be no different.
Sadly, as we enter this new year, we may expect to see attacks on the new WPS regulations that took 20 years of hard work to finally revise and improve. Anti-immigrant sentiment is at an all-time high, and programs to help the status of immigrant youth (DACA) may be dismantled, leaving families at risk of separation and deportation. Already, we are hearing fears from many farmworkers, immigrants, low-income people of color, and children that they may be more at risk in the coming year than they have been in decades. While we are deeply saddened at the negative rhetoric that is serving to create divisions, rather than build a community of one human family, we re-commit ourselves ever stronger to the struggle for social and environmental justice that defines our work and who we are as an organization and as a people. Going forward into the new year, we rally our courage and our strength with the words that have inspired us for decadess, Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We Can! Join us! We can do it together! And, together, we must!
Thanks to all our allies, friends and supporters over the years! Let’s lock hands together as we move into 2017.
On Saturday, September 3, at about 8:30pm, the world lost a strong warrior in the struggle for social and environmental justice. Geraldean Matthew transitioned peacefully from this world to the next, leaving behind a lasting legacy in the lives of the countless people whose lives she touched through her dedicated and unselfish work in and for her community for more than three decades.
Born in Belle Glade, Florida to a farmworker mother, Geraldean grew up as a young girl traveling the seasons up and down the east coast harvesting crops as varied as corn, cabbage, oranges, peppers and even Christmas trees in Southern Canada. Eventually, her family settled in the agricultural town of Apopka, Florida, where she remembers working in the vegetable fields on what is Florida’s fourth largest lake. The Lake Apopka farmlands are infamous for being the site of bird deaths and alligator reproductive anomalies due to the extensive amount of fertilizers and pesticides applied to the crops. Geraldean remembered being sprayed directly by pesticides and bringing home empty pesticide containers for various uses around the house – long before there were any regulations to train farmworkers about the dangers and health effects of pesticide exposure.
As a young woman in the late 1970s, Geraldean met the four courageous nuns who moved to Apopka and formed the Office for Farmworker Ministry to work with the largely African American and later Hispanic and Haitian communities in the area. That was the beginning of Geraldean’s education about the issues of social injustice and her becoming engaged in what would become a life-long work of making a positive difference in her community. Later, as a staff member of the Farmworker Association of Florida, Geraldean was known as fearless in her outreach to the HIV/AIDS community in Central Florida, leading the way into potentially dangerous environments if she knew there was someone in there who needed her help.
In the 1990s, when the Lake Apopka Farmworker Project was established at FWAF, Geraldean was at the forefront of efforts to help farmworkers displaced by the closing of the Lake Apopka farms to find re-training, new jobs, housing and assistance for their basic and immediate needs. Oftentimes, thinking more of others than of herself, Geraldean woke early to transport people to jobs miles away and worked late into the night doing outreach and education. Later, in 2005, she was the co-coordinator, along with anthropologist Ron Habin, of the Lake Apopka Farmworker Environmental Health Survey, which sought to identify the health conditions in the community of former Lake Apopka farmworkers and their experiences of pesticide exposure, (
In the last year of her life, as Geraldean was suffering the consequences of multiple chronic illnesses likely related to decades of direct and generational exposure to organochlorine pesticides, Geraldean Matthew told Fed Up author that they had at least two or three more books yet to write together; that she had many more from a lifetime of stories that still needed to be told. Sadly, those stories leave us along with Geraldean, as she moves on from this world to the next. Still, those Geraldean leaves behind have a wealth of stories of their own from a vast treasure of memories of working alongside Geraldean for years – at rallies and demonstrations; lobbying to decision makers in the state capitol; going door-to-door conducting a health survey; testifying at meetings and conferences, including at the EPA; speaking to countless church, student and civic groups about her personal life and the conditions for farmworkers; outreaching to AIDS patients in crack houses and on the streets; organizing meetings and community events; and motivating and inspiring others to get involved.
Geraldean may be gone, but her spirit lives on in all whose lives she has touched and by leaving the world a better place for her having been in it. We will miss you Geraldean. You are now free of the suffering of this world. May you be at peace and may your spirit soar free!
- The Forefront Of Progress: California Passes Historic Legislation To Protect Farm Workers
- FWAF is honored as one of the two recipient of the eighth annual Food Sovereignty Prize
- FWAF JOINS BLACK LIVES MATTER MARCH AND CANDLELIGHT VIGIL
- Solidarity With Victims & Their Families