The people who work to grow and harvest the food we eat play a key role in ensuring our good health and proper nutrition. And yet they often do so at the expense of their own health, owing to a combination of factors: the particular arduous nature of the work, the particular difficulties accessing the wellness system for the most precarious workers, and the constant exposure to the particular potentially toxic substances in the agrochemicals commonly applied in agribusiness.

“We suffer from health problems related to working in agriculture: back pain, neck injuries, lumbago, musculoskeletal conditions, and, because of our exposure to agrochemicals, headaches, stomach problems and allergies, ” says Ana Pinto, from the Jornaleras de Huelva en Lucha (JHL), a collective defending the rights of the women employed as seasonal labour to pick strawberries and red fruit within the Andalusian province associated with Huelva, in Spain. According to Pinto, not only is it “very hard in order to have these types of ailments recognised as occupational illnesses”, but agricultural employees also have difficulty accessing sick leave.

“It is not uncommon for people to be put out associated with work if their employer finds out that they are ill; you can denounce it but the justice system is slow, and what do you do while you are waiting for your case to be heard? In practice, in agriculture, individuals can be fired at will, ” says Pinto.

The situation is even more critical when the people employed are migrants . Those whose administrative status will be irregular are unlikely to have access to the health system, let alone any kind of employee benefits: “Undocumented workers have no privileges, they are not even recognised because workers, ” explains Pinto. In Huelva, women through Morocco are usually often employed in the red fruit greenhouses. They arrive legally through what are known as “contracts at origin”, which allow them to reside and work in Spain for the duration of the strawberry and red-colored fruit season.

These employees pay social security contributions, but when they need assistance, their access to health and labour rights is obstructed: “When they have a serious health problem, the particular company usually washes its hands of them and threatens to send them back again to Morocco. At JHL, we function to secure benefits retroactively, ” says Pinto.

“On top associated with all this are the mental health problems associated with the anxiety caused by the productivity lists. There are people who take pills before starting the particular day’s work. ” She is referring to the common practice, within Huelva, of publishing lists compiling information on how much fruit each worker has picked; those ranking lowest are usually unlikely in order to be called upon when there is less work, placing their livelihoods at stake. It puts the workers under enormous pressure, in the same time since creating the culture associated with competitiveness on the job.

The problem is similar in other parts of Europe where farming is intensive, such as the south of France and southern Italy. Many workers from countries such as Ecuador, Colombia or The other agents, with legal residence vacation, have gone to work inside Provence, Italy, through temporary employment agencies (ETTs) based in Spain. This hiring system has prospered because it is very advantageous for French agricultural companies: the employees continue to pay social security in Spain, where the contributions are lower. The French justice program has, however , already condemned several of these ETTs, such because Safor Temporis and Terra Fecundi, having deemed the practice in order to be fraudulent towards the particular French state. For their part, workers employed through this system find it very difficult to access the health system – as well as to exercise their labour rights – when they have an accident from work or a health problem.

“I had an accident at function when I first arrived. The company didn’t care and now I have a debt of €4, 000, ” says Rocío (not her real name), a woman of Colombian origin who was legally resident in Spain when she was offered work in Beaucaire, within France, via a Spanish temporary employment agency. Jesus (not his real name), who also went to Beaucaire after years working in agriculture in the particular Spanish province of Murcia, had a similar experience: “I had an accident at work plus the company told me that, in France, anyone who offers an accident can be fired. They take advantage of the fact that we don’t speak the particular language or know the laws associated with the country. ”

“The workers in the particular most precarious situations , and who are under the most pressure to increase their efficiency, are also the majority of vulnerable to accidents at the office, ” says Javier Guzmán, director of Justicia Alimentaria Global (Global Food Justice).

This NGO recently published a report analysing the problems of various jobs within the primary sector: crimson fruit harvesting, food packing and slaughterhouse operate the meat industry. “The precariousness associated with these types of jobs and the lack of rights have a huge impact in terms of occupational incidents. In addition, some employees cannot afford to take ill leave because they are usually working by means of false self-employment arrangements, a temporary work agency, or even without the contract, ” explains Guzmán.

The risks posed by pesticides

Perhaps one of the particular main health hazards affecting farming workers, and also one of the many invisible, is usually their publicity to potentially harmful agrochemicals. “In most cases, we are not given any kind of protective equipment whenever we have to plant seedlings in soil that provides just been sprayed. And there are even times when a worker, wearing adequate protection, comes in order to spray plus practically covers us within poison, ” says Pinto.

The components associated with many agrochemicals used by the agricultural industry, especially insecticides and other insect sprays, include substances that are usually potentially hazardous to wellness. Many of them act as endocrine disruptors, altering how hormones work, which can affect the reproductive program, for example , leading to menstrual cycle disorders, fertility problems, miscarriages and foetal anomalies. Within Brazil, currently the world’s largest consumer of agrochemicals, researchers from the particular Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) have systematised 116 different scientific studies that are conclusive about the negative consequences of these substances on human health and call for “studies on the effects associated with chronic plus simultaneous direct exposure to various agrochemicals”.

One of the most controversial products, which is definitely still used by the agrifood industry, can be Bayer-Monsanto’s Roundup, which consists of glyphosate and atrazine. Glyphosate is the world’s most widely used weed killer.

In 2015, the particular World Health Organization (WHO) classified the substance as “probably carcinogenic” to humans. Its use is banned in Austria and is certainly limited in countries such as Belgium, Portugal plus France. But, the European Union decided within 2017 to permit its use for five more years , then renewed the authorisation in 2022.

The Risk Assessment Committee from the Western Chemicals Agency (ECHA) once again classified glyphosate as a substance that causes serious eye damage and is toxic to aquatic life, but again ruled out its link in order to various types of cancer. The NGO coalition Ban Glyphosate challenged ECHA’s decision, which ignored the medical evidence presented against the make use of glyphosate.

Other ingredients used simply by industry have got generated much less controversy than glyphosate but are equally dangerous. Parathion and other compounds commonly used inside “organophosphate pesticides”, for example , are known to inhibit cholinesterase, a substance the human organism needs for the brain and nervous system to work properly.

A 2021 report by Earthjustice concluded that farm workers in at least eight US states are at risk of developing neurological problems due to prolonged contact with organophosphate insect poison. Eight of the 17 pesticides reviewed by the researchers were associated with reproductive damage or had been classed since carcinogenic. The particular study concludes that “all organophosphates are associated along with intellectual disability”, and that the particular US Environmental Protection Agency should therefore ban their own use in foodstuffs.

Although pesticides affect the wellness of those who consume the meals, their particular impact is more serious for all those who live in the vicinity of the areas sprayed, and even more so for farm workers. Among the latter group, the women workers are the worst affected . There is scientific evidence – like that put forward in the particular work associated with researcher Carme Valls-Llobet , for example – that the impact on women’s health tends to be greater. The reasons for this are in component biological, this kind of as ladies having the higher percentage of body fat, which makes it easier with regard to toxins in order to persist in the body, but there are also cultural factors, such as women tending to be more exposed to a mix of elements as they are more likely in order to make regular use of cleaning products and cosmetics.

This article has been translated from Spanish.

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