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Report on Farm Worker Children and Pesticides

Posted on June 10th, 2011 by Alejandra Okie 1 Comment

A new report about farm worker children examines birth defects, neurological and behavior disorders, respiratory disease, as well as leukemia and other childhood cancers and their connection to pesticides. The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP) released Dangerous Exposure: Farmworker Children and Pesticides.

The report is a tool for consumers, policy-makers, health and safety trainers, advocates, those who serve farm workers, and those who benefit daily from their hard work.

Pesticide exposure occurs at work in the fields and also at home. Farm workers may bring their families into contact with pesticides through their clothes or unsafe storage of chemicals.

However, thousands of children all over the country are more directly exposed to pesticide residues while they work harvesting fruit, vegetable, and flower crops. Children often work with their parents in the fields in order to provide the basics for the family.

Agriculture is one of the three most dangerous industries in the nation, and yet every year across the country close to 500,000 farm worker children and youth work to bring food to our tables.

Read the full report.

Learn more about child labor in agriculture.

One Response

  1. Donna Staples says:

    Harvest of Dignity examines current conditions for field and poultry workers in North Carolina fifty years after a similar film, Shameful Harvest, was brought to the screen by Edward R. Morrow. As I watched the newer production, I remembered a small boy peering at me with large eyes behind a patched screen door.

    In 1968 I worked on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in a migrant labor project funded by LBJ’s Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). Field hands, mostly African Americans from Florida and Georgia, traveled up and down the east coast, picking tomatoes, potatoes and cucumbers and living temporarily in migrant labor camps that closely resembled those in Morrow’s Shameful Harvest. Courtesy of OEO, my idealistic colleagues and I set up health and dental clinics at night, after exhausted workers returned to the camps from the fields. The clinics were staffed by a corps of professional volunteers and often occasioned the first visit with a doctor or dentist many of those workers had ever experienced.

    As part of my job that summer I drove a seven year-old boy to the local community hospital. With twig-thin arms and bowed legs, Robert looked more like a child of three or four when I picked him up at the shack he shared with 10 or 12 laborers, some of them only a few years older than Robert himself. The clinic doctor had recommended the trip to the hospital, and Robert’s mother couldn’t take him—she worked in the fields every day and, of course, she didn’t have a car. She was worried because he cried most nights in pain, disturbing the others who shared their small sleeping quarters, and they all needed their sleep so they could get up and work the next day.

    After signing in with a grim receptionist at the hospital, Robert and I waited for several hours while every one else in sight—including many who checked in long after we did—was seen first. Finally I donned a protective apron and held Robert’s hand as a kindly tech took x-rays. When the technician handed me the developed films to take to the doctor at the camp, he informed me that Robert probably had rickets. In this fertile land of sunshine and food abundance, Robert was diagnosed with a disease related to lack of vitamin D, calcium and phosphate. Did the lack of vitamin D have to do with Robert being confined to a small sunless shack day after day while his mother worked? Could the calcium problem have stemmed from her inability to buy milk, which was either unavailable in the camps or too expensive? The good news was that his mother agreed to let her son spend more time outside in the sun, a risk she was willing to take even though he would have no adult supervision. At least sunshine was free.

    I live now in California’s wine country and often see groups of workers pruning vines, laying irrigation tubing and picking grapes. Many of these laborers are permanent residents in our communities, but others stay temporarily in shacks that are tucked at the backs of the vineyards. I wonder what their lives are like, and whether there is a Robert among them.

    Harvest of Dignity shows that conditions for many migrant workers have changed little since the sixties, but I’m grateful for the film and for its presentation on the Public Internet Channel. I’d suggest it as required viewing for every member of Congress, particularly those on labor and agriculture committees that influence the laws that still keep an entire segment of our workforce—including children—laboring in unjust, unsafe and unhealthy settings.

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