Congress Proposes to Strip Farmworker Protection Standards in Funding Bill


A funding bill (H.R. 5538) for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Interior Department is receiving pushback from conservation groups, environmental lobbyists, and workers’ rights advocates for containing dozens of controversial amendments, including one that would strip funding for parts of the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS), which establishes many protections for those in the country who experience the highest and most dangerous pesticide exposure – farmworkers.

Title IV, Section 437 of H.R. 5538 states that, “None of the funds made available by this or any other Act may be used to implement or enforce, or to require States to implement or enforce, the provisions of 40 CFR 170.311(b)(9) as published in the Federal Register on November 2, 2015.” The provisions of 40 CFR 170.311(b)(9) refer to the WPS revisions passed in 2015, which had previously not been updated for over 20 years. The revisions are designed to provide at least some protections from pesticide exposure to farmworkers and their families is scheduled to effect in December 2016.

Historically, farmworker advocates have criticized WPS as woefully inadequate in protecting the health of agricultural workers, but these new revisions strengthen the standards through increased training for workers handling pesticides, improved notification of pesticide applications, and a higher minimum age requirement for children to work around pesticides.

According to a factsheet released by Farmworker Justice, a nonprofit organization that represents the interests of migrant and seasonal farmworkers, “Title IV, Section 437 of the FY 2017 House Appropriations Bill for the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies would prohibit ‘the use of funds to implement or enforce,’ the provisions of the WPS that allow access to pesticide application and hazard information by a worker’s designated representative. By denying access to such information to a designated representative, Congress would create barriers that could delay medical treatment and add more to healthcare costs. The idea that workers should not be able to designate representatives is unacceptable.”

Farm work is demanding and dangerous physical labor. As the scientific literature confirms, farmworkers, their families, and their communities face extraordinary risks from pesticide exposures. Application and pesticide drift result in dermal, inhalation, and oral exposures that are typically underestimated. A 2004 study detected agricultural pesticides in the homes near to agricultural fields. According to a 2010 study, workers experience repeated exposures to the same pesticides evidenced by multiple pesticides routinely detected in their bodies. As a result of cumulative long-term exposures, farmworkers and their children, who often times also work on the farm, are at risk of developing serious chronic health problems such as cancer, neurological impairments, and Parkinson’s disease. Children, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report, face even greater health risks compared to adults when exposed to pesticides. For more information, read our factsheet, Children and Pesticides Don’t Mix.

Our food choices have a direct effect around the world on those who grow and harvest the food we eat around. This is why food labeled organic is the right choice. In addition to serious health questions linked to actual residues of toxic pesticides on the food we eat, our food buying decisions support or reject hazardous agricultural practices, and the protection of farmworkers and farm families. See Beyond Pesticides’ guide to Eating with a Conscience to see how your food choices can protect farmworkers. In addition to organic, it is also important to consider food labels that create standards for farmworker safety and fairness. For more information on the different types of food labels, including the Agricultural Justice certification label, see the transcription of Michael Sligh’s talk at the 32nd National Pesticide Forum, titled Social Justice Labeling: From Field to Table.

Urge Congress to reject this attack on farmworker health and safety. Please urge your member of Congress to vote “no” on H.R. 5538.

For more information on Agricultural Justice, and how you can make a difference, see the Agricultural Justice Initiatives Panel from the 33rd National Pesticide Forum.

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