It’s backbreaking work but it needs to be done and done it is for low wages and in harsh conditions. We enjoy the labor of migrant workers every time we bite into a New York red Gala apple or throw on our favorite 100-percent cotton “Made in America” sweatshirt. And yet, despite the fact that Spanish is the native language of 80 percent of agricultural workers in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seems unconcerned that many pesticide warning labels are only printed in English.
Today, Public Citizen joined Farmworker Justice, the Migrant Clinicians Network, and others in filing comments to the EPA demanding the agency to issue bilingual labeling standard for pesticides. Justin Feldman, worker health and safety advocate with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division explains,
“Many agricultural workers remain unaware of the precautions they need to take to protect themselves from pesticides. Our proposal is a simple measure that would have important public health benefits.”
Bilingual labeling would help prevent serious health problems for workers. Hundreds of farm workers suffer from acute pesticide poisoning each year and a growing body of research links long-term exposure to the chemicals with neurological disorders, reproductive problems and cancer.
Pesticide manufacturers have demonstrated that they can easily produce bilingual labels. Many pesticides sold in retail stores throughout the United States already display warnings in both English and Spanish. Pesticides sold for commercial use in Puerto Rico also provide information in Spanish. But most pesticides sold for commercial use in the U.S. include only a single sentence in Spanish, which asks workers to find someone who can help translate the label.
“It is unrealistic for EPA to expect that workers can have the labels translated,” Feldman added. “Even when a bilingual person is willing to help, translating technical language is challenging if you’re not a trained interpreter.”
“Labor standards for agriculture have long lagged behind those of other industries. Bilingual labeling is a critical step toward establishing meaningful farm worker protections,” Feldman said.