PANNA: California Agencies Not Protecting Farmworkers


Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

California Agencies Not Protecting Farmworkers

June 25, 1999

California farmworkers face a greater risk of pesticide poisonings than any other segment of the population and are not adequately protected by state and county agencies according to a new report. Fields of Poison: California Farmworkers and Pesticides, written by Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), United Farm Workers (UFW), and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF), found poor enforcement of pesticide regulations by most California County Agriculture Commissioners.

While some County Agricultural Commissioners do conduct fairly thorough inspections and regularly issue fines for violations, the report concludes these agencies are the exception rather than the rule. During 1996/1997, more than 85% of documented pesticide safety violations statewide carried no fines at all and were not recorded in permanent statewide records. When fines are issued, they are generally very low. Of those issued between 1991 through 1996, almost half were less than US$151, and less than 5% exceeded US$1,000.

The report reveals that California counties with the largest number of reported pesticide poisonings and the highest agricultural pesticide use issue the fewest fines for pesticide safety violations. These include Fresno, Kern, Tulare, San Joaquin and Monterey counties.

Approximately 600,000 farmworkers are employed in California, the state with the largest agricultural economy in the United States. Between 1991 and 1996, an average of 665 incidents of acute farmworker pesticide poisonings were officially reported in the state each year, with many more cases unreported. Of those reported, most poisonings were caused by exposure to pesticide spray drift (44%) or pesticide residues in the field (33%).

The report identifies the top 10 crops in California responsible for the highest number of reported farmworker poisonings between 1991 and 1996. Topping the list are grapes, cotton and broccoli, accounting for 31% of all reported cases. These are followed by oranges, ornamentals, almonds, tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries and alfalfa. In about 29% of the cases, no specific crop was identified.

PANNA, UFW and CRLAF demand immediate action to reduce pesticide exposure and to strengthen enforcement of regulations to protect farmworkers, including:

* Stronger enforcement of existing pesticide safety laws, including mandatory minimum penalties for violations.

* A rapid phase out of the most toxic pesticides and promotion of safe and sustainable alternatives.

* Improved reporting systems for pesticide-related illnesses and pesticide use.

* Improved farmworker access to medical treatment.

Agriculture is one of the most hazardous occupations in the United States. The death rate among agricultural workers nationwide was estimated at 20.9 per 100,000 workers in 1996, compared to the average for all industries of 3.9 per 100,000 workers. Rates of injury or illness among farmworkers are also high. Since 1990 injury rates in agricultural production have ranged from 9.4% to more than 12%, well above the average of occupational injuries for all industries.

"Many consumers are choosing cruelty-free cosmetics and recycled paper. We should also be demanding food that is produced in an ethical and socially responsible way and not at the expense of the health and well-being of thousands of farmworker men, women and children," said Margaret Reeves of PANNA.

The report, available in English and Spanish, is free to California residents and US$10 for all others. It is also available on the PANNA website at http://www.panna.org.

Source/contact: Pesticide Action Network North America, 49 Powell Street #500, San Francisco, CA 94102; phone (415) 981-1771; fax (415)981-1991; email panna@panna.org.

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