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Daily News Blog

21
Oct

Report Finds Latina Farmworkers Confront Unique Challenges

(Beyond Pesticides, October 21, 2020) Women now account for one in four agricultural jobs in the United States, and these important workers face unique challenges to their health and well-being, as outlined by a report published by Boise State University scientists. Farmworkers, often immigrants, or from communities of color, are frequently referred to as ‘invisible’, despite the essential job they perform getting food to American’s dinner tables. With their struggle and plight outside of the view of mainstream news, it is critical that U.S, residents better understand the lives they lead, and their daily obstacles, to inform how their conditions can be improved.

“In this study, we tried to understand the women that we were working with what their concerns were and what their challenges were rather than coming in and just saying what we thought the concerns were,” Cynthia Curl, PhD, Associate Professor at Boise State University, told Idaho News 6 (IN6).

To better assess the well-being of women farmworkers, researchers conducted mixed method data collection, through surveys, focus groups, and urinary analysis for pesticide body burden. Surveys were received from 70 Latina farmworkers, with 22 participating in focus groups and 11 in semi-structured interviews. An assessment of pesticide levels in the body, also known as body burden, or biomonitoring, were analyzed for 29 women. All farmworkers in this report worked in Idaho.  

Surveys found most women to be in their mid-30s, with two to three children in each household. Pay within these households is abysmal – 70% earned less than $25,000 a year, and nearly 20% made less than $10,000. Women engaged in farm work seasonally, with only 35% reporting to work in the winter. Most had worked in fields for over 10 years, and the vast majority, nearly 90%, lived in their current home for at least the last year. Despite the time spent in the region, nearly half of those surveyed indicate they do not strongly feel part of their community.

Most need to commute more than 10 miles to work, have trouble finding healthy, affordable food, and will skip meals due to financial pressure. Roughly 70% of Latina farmworkers reportedly struggle to find access to affordable health care. Over the previous year, nearly 10% applied pesticides.

“I think it’s also important to keep in mind that these challenges related to food security, providing food for their families and getting child care is in part due to their day to day life and what their work hours look like. Other parts are being in a rural place and not earning a lot of money,” said Rebecca Som Castellano, PhD, Associate Professor at Boise State University, to IN6.

Focus groups provided an opportunity for researchers to go in-depth with workers about their challenges. “It was such a beautiful conversation,” Lisa Meierotto, PhD Associate Professor at Boise State University, said to IN6. “There was one woman who reported that no one had ever asked her these things before. So just the opportunity for women to come together and talk about both the joys they had working in agriculture as well as the challenges they faced.”

Latina farmworkers told researchers how they appreciate working outside, and enjoy working with other women. “Es trabajo pesado. Pero bonito,” (it is difficult work, but beautiful work), one farmworker said, according to the report. Most farmworker women (over 90%) prioritized medical care, good schooling, and stable employment as most important for their well-being. They also discussed difficulty in working while raising young children, and inequality in domestic work, with women shouldering much of the burden for household chores and child-rearing tasks. Single farmworker mothers describe compounding problems with low pay and no support structure leading to problems in paying for rent and groceries.

Sexual harassment and assault were raised as ongoing issues for farmworker women. It was noted that many women, fearing job loss, do not report these incidents to police.

The biomonitoring survey, consisting of 29 women, analyzed urine samples for common pesticide metabolites (breakdown products) from pyrethroid insecticides, the organophosphate insecticide malathion, and the herbicide 2,4-D. Of the 29, 15 women provided two samples, one taken from mid-April to late June when pesticide use is considerably high, and another from January first to early April, when use is much lower. Detectable levels of every metabolite tested were found in every woman who provided a sample. Higher rates were found in samples measured during peak pesticide use. For the malathion metabolite, the highest detection was from women who reported applying pesticides at work but not receiving any training. The report reads, “Collectively, these results suggest that women who are applying pesticides may not be adequately protected from exposures to these chemicals.”

Dr. Curl told the Idaho Press that because women are not often considered primary pesticide applicators, “they don’t get the training and they don’t get clothes in the right size, so that is an added challenge that they may face.”

The report makes four policy recommendations based upon the information gathered. First, that funding for community health services should be continued and increased. Second, that work should be done to increase affordable childcare opportunities. Next, that policies should improve access to safe and affordable housing. Lastly, that growers must ensure all workers have personal protective equipment and are adequately trained if they are required to handle pesticides.

Farmworker safety in the workplace is not protected by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration, but by inadequate provisions in federal pesticide law that took years to update and have nonetheless been the target of the Trump administration’s dangerous deregulatory agenda. The average life expectancy for a farmworker is 49 years, compared to 78 for the general population. This is similar to the life expectancy of individuals living in the 1850s. 

It is unacceptable to continue business as usual. Farmworker women and their families deserve equitable, meaningful protections so that they can continue to do the work they love, safely. Tell your Congressional representative today that EPA must act to protect farmworkers. And urge them to support HR3394, the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety, legislation in Congress that would put an end to child farm labor.

For more information on farmworker protections see Beyond Pesticides’ Agricultural Justice webpage.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Idaho News 6, Idaho Press, Research Report: Assessment of Risk Factors for Health Disparities among Latina Farm Workers

 

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