Margaret Reeves's blog | Pesticide Action Network
Reclaiming the future of food and farming

Margaret Reeves's blog

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New farmworker rules: Better, but not good enough

Last week EPA released its proposal for long-awaited improvements in the federal worker protection standard (WPS). These are the rules designed to protect the nation’s nearly two million farmworkers from the hazards of pesticide exposure. While the proposed changes include many of the improvements we and other farmworker advocates have been pushing for, there's still a long way to go.

We'll be joining our partners to generate thousands of comments on the rules over the next few months, from diverse sectors across the country — stay tuned. Meanwhile, below is my initial take on the proposed changes, including what's good and what needs to be improved.

Margaret Reeves
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Farmworkers, flowers & fairness

Each year we mark Valentine's Day by urging people to remember the workers who make those gorgeous bouquets of roses possible. I'm very pleased to report that this year, we're finally seeing some real progress toward safer conditions — and more protections from pesticides — for farmworkers across the country.

Just this week, 52 members of Congress sent a letter to EPA urging the agency to make sure that the long-awaited improvements in the federal Worker Protection Standard (WPS) are meaningful and promptly completed. So after you buy (or enjoy a gift of) cut flowers this week, keep an eye out here for upcoming opportunities to support better safety rules for the farmworkers who toiled to grow and harvest that bouquet.

Margaret Reeves
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A Farm Bill at long last

Phew! After a long, arduous two-and-a-half year process, we finally have a Farm Bill. The bill, approved recently in both the House and Senate, now goes to President Obama for near-certain approval. Unfortunately, as we reported last week after the House vote, the new law is a real mixed bag.

On the plus side, support is up for local and regional food systems; farmers must conserve soil and water if they want help paying for crop insurance; and more insurance options are now available for organic farmers. On the minus side, food stamp funding was slashed; Congress failed miserably to rein in huge payments to millionaire farmers; and conservation funding was reduced for the first time since the program began in 1985.

Margaret Reeves
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Powerful voices from the fields

Earlier this month, a group of farmworkers traveled from Florida and North Carolina to bring their very real-world concerns about pesticides to decisionmakers in DC. On the heels of their visits, we now hear that a long-awaited update of the rules designed to protect workers in the field is actually, finally moving forward.

The Worker Protection Standard — or WPS — is the one rule intended to protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure on the job. It first went into effect back in 1995 and has never been strengthened or updated, despite clear evidence that workers across the country are suffering health harms from exposure to hazardous chemicals on the job. Now it looks like improvements are finally in the works. And it's about time.

Margaret Reeves
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Bayer fined for endangering farmworkers

EPA recently fined Bayer CropSciences $53,000 for endangering the lives of farmworkers with pesticide exposure in their Puerto Rican research and nursery operations. While this is a tiny drop in Bayer's multi-million dollar budget, we do take it as an encouraging sign.

The good news: When rules are enforced — in this case, the federal Worker Protection Standards (WPS) — employers are held accountable for protecting workers from exposure to hazardous pesticides. The less good news: Enforcement actions like this one are all too rare, and the WPS itself is old, inadequate and in serious need of an upgrade.

Margaret Reeves
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Thanking farmworkers

A bountiful table surrounded by friends and family — that's how many of us celebrate Thanksgiving. So it makes sense that this week we pause and give thanks to the many people who make the celebration possible.

From the farmers who grow the food, to the workers who package and process it, to the millions of farmworkers who work extraordinarily hard to cultivate and harvest the crops that sustain us all, those all along the food chain deserve our thanks — and our support.

Margaret Reeves
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Mexico puts hold on GE corn

Mexico is known across the globe as the “birthplace of corn.” It’s home to thousands of types of traditional maize, as well as teoesinte, the grass ancestor of any and all corn varieties. Corn is also a cornerstone of food traditions in Mexico, from tortillas to tamales to pozole.

That’s why last week’s announcement from a federal judge that all field trials of genetically engineered (GE) corn are suspended in Mexico is very, very big news.

Margaret Reeves
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Pesticide drifts miles from Florida fields

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released compelling findings from a study on the air-borne movement (aka "drift") of the pesticide endosulfan in Florida.

Researchers found that this soon-to-be-banned persistent pesticide traveled miles from tomato fields where it was applied, and that drift levels jumped significantly during spray season. More details on the study are outlined below, but first consider this: with USDA stepping into the ring to document pesticide drift, is it possible that EPA and USDA might actually look at pesticide use and regulations together? Now that would be interesting news indeed.

Margaret Reeves
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Let's get the Farm Bill right — and quickly

I just called my legislators on Capitol Hill to tell them how important it is to get a fair Food and Farm Bill passed, and soon. I told them we need policies that support farmers who are working to protect vital resources — soil, water, pollinators — and that provide access for everyone to good quality food.

It's pretty clear that Congress needs some pressure on this one. They were on the hook to pass a new Farm Bill in 2012 — and they didn’t. Instead, we’ve seen two failed attempts, followed by a terrible last-minute extension of the 2008 Farm Bill that left many of the best programs for small, family farmers on the cutting room floor. We're working with partners across the country to press legislators to get it right this time, and you can help.

Margaret Reeves
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Real change this Labor Day

Far too many of the United State's 80 million workers still don't receive fair wages or adequate workplace protections. This Labor Day, people across the country — in the streets and in Washington D.C. — are joining the call for better labor practices.

In his speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington this week, President Obama noted: "For over a decade, working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate." Workplace protection policies for many, including farmworkers, have also remained stagnate — and wholly insufficient. Change is long overdue.

Margaret Reeves

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