The tide is turning as farm workers fight for organic farming


Many people choose organic foods to protect themselves and their families from exposure to pesticides. But choosing organic also means helping to create a healthier food system for everyone, from farm to table. Far too often, discussions of pesticides in the food system exclude the men, women and children who plant, tend and harvest our food.

The millions of agricultural workers who are the backbone of our food system are regularly exposed to high levels of toxic pesticides in the fields where they work and in the communities where they live. They can be exposed to levels hundreds of times greater than consumer exposure to pesticides.

And because farm workers and their families typically cannot afford organic food, they suffer the added burden of exposure to pesticides at work, in their environment, and in their diets. Eliminating pesticides from our food system will dramatically improve the health of agricultural workers and rural communities.

A new peer-reviewed study published in Environmental research shows how eating organic food can have a positive impact on the body. This prompts us to ask: how do we create a food system where organic is for everyone?

By following four different American families before and after following an all-organic diet, researchers found that pesticide levels in people’s bodies dropped significantly after just one week of consuming organic foods and beverages.

After a week on the organic diet, detected pesticide levels dropped an average of 60% with a range of 37-95%, depending on the compound.

In the families studied, levels of chlorpyrifos, a widely used and highly neurotoxic pesticide, dropped by 61% within a week. Government scientists have recommended banning chlorpyrifos because of its links to increased rates of autism, neurodevelopmental problems and reduced IQ in children. But the Trump administration defied its own scientists and rejected a 2017 ban, and appealed a 2018 federal court order to enact the ban. As a result of this administration’s inaction, Hawaii passed the first state-level ban in 2018 and Rep. Nydia Velázquez introduced a federal bill to ban this dangerous pesticide.

Research shows that the risks of exposure to chlorpyrifos are highest for children of farm workers and for children born and raised near fields where this pesticide and other organophosphates are sprayed.

Chlorpyrifos is just one of many toxic pesticides to which farm workers and their families are routinely exposed. And as a result, agricultural workers suffer from higher rates of a series of serious health problems, including acute poisoning, birth defects, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases, infertility and problems related to hormonal disruption, respiratory diseases like bronchitis and asthma, and many cancers including leukemia, breast, brain, lung, pancreatic and prostate cancers.

Little is being done to protect agricultural workers from exposure to pesticides. They are excluded from many US labor laws, and worker protection laws do not focus on reducing the use of toxic pesticides. Organizations like ours, Farmworker Justice and Farmworker Association of Florida, are leading the fight to improve workplace safety and training for farm workers, eliminate the most toxic pesticides used in agriculture, and increase knowledge about the harmful effects of exposure to pesticides on farm workers and farming communities. .

At the same time, farm workers help lead the fight for organic farming because they know how dangerous our current system is. Today, farming with toxic pesticides is the norm. But, for everyone’s health, from farm to table, we need to create a food system where organic is for everyone. The solution is there, we just have to develop it.

Feature image courtesy of Florida Farmworkers Association.

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