Thursday, January 30, 2014

Gold medal for farmworker advocacy

Farmworker Advocacy Network members
It's been a great week for the folks in North Carolina who fight for farmworker justice. This week members of the Farmworker Advocacy Network (of which Toxic Free NC is a member) were honored with two remarkable awards:

It always feels good to be recognized in your hometown paper, and that's exactly what happened this week when the Independent Weekly gave the Farmworker Advocacy Network its annual Citizen Award. Check out the article in the Indy and leave a comment if you support justice for the folks who harvest our food in North Carolina!

On a bigger stage, FAN members were also delighted to win a Midsouth Regional Emmy this week for our 2010 documentary, "Harvest of Dignity." This 30-minute short film commemorates the 50th anniversary of Edward R. Murrow's groundbreaking television documentary, "Harvest of Shame," which first exposed the shocking living and working conditions of the people who harvest our food in the United States. "Harvest of Dignity" revisits a North Carolina labor camp featured in the 1960 film, and explores just how little things have changed since then. "Harvest of Dignity" was produced by Minnow Media in association with the Farmworker Advocacy Network.

Want to meet these award-winning advocates in person? Toxic Free NC and other FAN members are available to bring a film screening and discussion to your church, school group or other civic group - contact us to set up a date and get more involved in the struggle for justice in our food system.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Polar vortex, pesticides, red tape can't stop us!

By Neftali & Yesenia Cuello

Yesenia and Neftali braved brutal cold at the Capitol last week to speak out about pesticide safety.

We started working in the fields of eastern North Carolina when Neftali was 12 years old, and Yesenia was 14. We worked in tobacco, blueberries and strawberries every summer for years. We saw pesticides used nearby and were even exposed to the drift, but never knew what pesticides were.

We never heard the word “pesticide” or had a safety training until 4 years later when we joined NC FIELD and our eyes were opened.

All those years we were being exposed to these things on the job, without any knowledge of what they could do to our health. Now we go out into the fields to meet other children who are working there, photograph them and learn about their lives. We meet teenagers, sometimes kids as young as 8 and 9. Not one youth farmworker we’ve met said they’d ever had a pesticide safety training.
NC youth working in sweet potato. Photo by Yesenia Cuello
This is why we have to make our voices heard.

Last week we joined a delegation of farmworkers and youth who traveled to Washington DC. We met with members of Congress and the US EPA to ask them for a strong Worker Protection Standard. People shouldn’t be working with these chemicals without training and safety protections that keep them and their families safe. Kids shouldn’t be working with pesticides at all!

We don’t want unsafe pesticides on our food, and we don’t want other kids to have to work around them or with them like we and our other siblings did. We need a strong Worker Protection Standard that makes the fields and our families safer. If you agree, please make your voice heard, too.

Neftali Cuello serves on Toxic Free NC's Community Leadership Council, and is the Secretary of Poder Juvenil Campesino, the youth group of NC FIELD. Yesenia Cuello is President of PJC and serves on NC FIELD's Board of Directors.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hungry for real pesticide protections? So are farmworkers.

by Fawn Pattison, Senior Advocate

Each year farms across the United States use over 800 million pounds of pesticides – weed, bug and fungus killing chemicals – to grow our food. Some of those chemicals wind up on the food we eat. Some of those chemicals wind up in our water. These chemicals are associated with a wide array of health problems in humans, from increased cancer risk to learning disabilities.

But more than anyone else, the people affected by pesticides are the people who pick our food: farmworkers. From higher cancer rates to learning disabilities among children, farmworkers suffer the greatest burden of harm from the pesticides used on our food.

This week, farmworkers are demanding a change.
A team of farmworkers from North Carolina and Florida are braving brutally cold weather to travel to Washington DC for meetings with the US Environmental Protection Agency and members of Congress. Members of NC FIELD and the Farmworker Association of Florida have left their jobs and families behind this week to convey their message in Washington: End the delays that have slowed down new pesticide rules for over a decade. It’s time to finally move forward on the Worker Protection Standard (WPS), the set of regulations intended to protect farmworkers from exposure to hazardous pesticides on the job.

The WPS governs things like what safety equipment must be worn, how workers are trained, and what information is provided to workers about the chemicals they’re working with. By any measure, the WPS has failed in its job so far. The WPS allows teenagers to work as pesticide handlers. It is unclear about many requirements, like how soon employers have to provide medical attention in case of an emergency, and whether workers should get written information about the pesticides to which they are exposed.

Why does this matter to the average consumer? Just imagine if the workers in an automotive plant were under-trained and under-informed about the materials they worked with every day. Workers need to be able to report faulty equipment, misused chemicals, stupid mistakes and breaches of the law. When they can’t, we all bear the consequences, in the form of foods, streams and soil contaminated with hazardous chemicals. And the farmworkers themselves suffer most of all.

The decision-makers at the EPA need to hear from the people most directly affected by the political choices they make. If they do, we all reap the benefits.

P.S. Stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook page to get updates from the team in DC this week!