Nationwide rallies seek to improve lives of those who provide your food
Did you eat today? If so, you can thank a farmworker. This is National Farmworker Awareness Week (March 27-April 2). For every tomato and head of lettuce you put in your shopping cart this spring, there is a farmworker in California, Texas, Washington, Florida, Oregon and North Carolina who handpicked it for you. And if the food wasn’t grown organically, there is a good chance a farmworker and a child was exposed to harmful pesticides.
This week above all, is a good time to take notice of where and how your food is grown.
First, consider that pesticide exposure is theleading cause of illness among farmworkers. Studies show that the pesticides are not only on their bodies, but on their cars, in their homes and even their children’s toys. “While consumers worry about the chemical residue left over from spraying, farm workers are practically marinating in it,” says a watchdog organization, Change.org.
A study released in February 2011 showed that farmworkers in the Salinas Valley tracked the health of children whose mother’s were exposed to farm pesticides. The early release of the study (Center for Children's Environmental Health Research at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health) shows that prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides is linked to attention problems, and is very visible by the time they reach age five, especially in boys. A longer-term study is tracking hundreds of older women and children and examining the how prenatal exposure affects the development of asthma, diabetes and obesity.
The CIW Fair Food principles include a penny-per-pound piece rate wage increase (yes, you read that correctly, one penny), a cooperative complaint resolution system, a health and safety program and a worker-to-worker education process. In October, the CIW signed an agreement with two of Florida’s largest tomato-packing companies and growers, Pacific Tomato Growers and Six L’s.
Nine food chains including Subway, McDonald’s and Burger King and more than 90 percent of the Florida tomato industry have adopted fair-food principles from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization of Haitian, Latino and Mayan farmworkers in Florida. But Denver-based Quiznos has yet to agree to the CIW Fair-Food Principles. Last year, at this same time company officials said they were reviewing the legal issues to ensure that the penny per pound would be used accordingly for the farmworkers. In January 2010, the company published a Supplier Code of Conduct, but to date, Quiznos has not signed the CIW agreement, hence there will be protesters this week at Quiznos. Rallies are scheduled throughout the country to gain more support for CIW and farmworkers. Log onto: http://www.ciw-online.org for more information.
Farmworkers’ appalling living conditions
While you may think that tomato or head of lettuce served at restaurants or sold in the grocery store was grown by responsible farming operations with humane working conditions and a safe environment, here are a few cold hard facts to stop you in your tracks:
Farmworkers are paid by the bucket, in some states as a low as 40 cents for tomatoes and sweet potatoes. At this rate, a farmworker has to pick two tons of produce to make $50. On average, farmwokers make an average of $11K a year, and only two percent use social security, and 15 percent use Medicaid.
The Fair Labor Standards Act sets 12 as the minimum wage for farm work, not 16 as for other jobs. By the time a child is 12, he or she works between 16-18 hours a week in the field. Because of the transient nature of their lifestyle, it takes an average of three years for a child to complete one grade level.
Farmworkers suffer from a high rate of injury to skin, eyes and lungs from toxic chemical exposure from pesticides (see the video). Children of migrant farmworkers have higher rates of pesticide exposure, malnutrition and dental disease than the general population. Yet, only 10 percent of employers provide farmworkers with health insurance.
Since 1997, federal officials have produced seven Florida farmworker slavery convictions. The most recent case involved three people who promised work to 50 Haitians in Florida, but upon their arrival, they confiscated their passports and visas. The workers were denied food, sanitary living conditions and medical care, and one woman reported being raped, according to the National Farm Worker Ministry.