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Pesticide Protections for Farmworkers

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One of the most important and underreported stories over the last few weeks was the EPA setting new pesticide protections for farmworkers.

The new rules, announced by EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, and United Farm Workers (UFW) president Arturo Rodriguez, include the following stipulations:

All pesticide applicators will be required to be at least 18 years old, rather than 16;

Whistleblower protections, including for undocumented workers, must be implemented so that farm laborers can safely file complaints over workplace abuse;

Workers or their representatives must be allowed easy access to records involving hazardous chemical exposure.

These are the first new regulations designed to promote farmworker safety since 1992. One reason for that is that the new pesticides developed to protect consumers from pesticide poisoning strike hard and fast, but don’t persist. That means that their entire human impact is on the farmworkers, but consumers were safe. That basically ended the pesticide exposure movement among foodies (the organic movement is different but related, but both focus almost entirely on consumers) and left farmworkers high and dry as far as effective allies go for protecting them from pesticides. We’ll see how effective they are; my guess is an improvement but a lot of workers will still get sick.

Agribusiness is of course furious, with all the expected stated reasons being used to hide the real reason, which is that they don’t mind killing farmworkers if it increases their profits.

I’ll also note how the United Farm Workers, despite being a non-entity among unions and that includes those actually organizing farmworkers, remains the historical touchstone that centers them in narratives of farmworker protection in the present as well. If I was an organizer for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee or Coalition of Immokalee Workers, this might annoy me.

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