We have all heard about farmworkers who supply us with cheap food but cannot afford food for their own families. This is a contradiction to God’s world of abundance with enough for everyone and contradictory to Biblical teachings to pay just wages. In addition to low wages, we often hear that farmworkers are in one of the most dangerous industries in our country. The EPA estimates that 300,000 farmworkers suffer from pesticide poisoning each year. When we realize that many of our farmworkers are children, this is especially tragic.
Recently, I was privileged to attend the NC Farmworkers Institute at the United Church of Chapel Hill. I attended as a citizen and a longtime advocate for farmworkers. I am interested in the working conditions and safety of all workers, but especially farmworkers and more especially children who are farmworkers. Dr. Thomas Arcury, a Wake Forest University professor, presented data on a pilot study of 87 children (ages 10-17) working in North Carolina fields. This study found that 45% of these children work in tobacco. Since we will not sell tobacco to children, is it right to let them work in tobacco fields where one day of work is equivalent to smoking 36 cigarettes? We must protect our children who have no vote or voice in our regulatory agencies.
Currently a child of 10 is allowed to work in the fields. Kinston-based NC FIELD gave personal testimonies of pesticide exposure while working in the fields affecting adults and children — not God’s plan for sure! We in the church often remember our commandment to do unto others as you would have them do to you. Would you want your children exposed to pesticides?
The EPA has just proposed new safety regulations for pesticides and they are putting a minimum age on using pesticides at 16. This is a big improvement, but we can do better. Go to Toxic Free NC for some thoughts on allowing 16 and 17 years old to apply pesticides as well as for a personal story of NC children in the fields and pesticide exposure. After reading this story you might want to scroll down to a sign-on letter to EPA administrators. Let your voice stand up for all our children in the farmworking arena.
If you want to let NC Commissioner of Labor Cherry Berry know of your concerns for child safety and for worker protections, she can be reached at Commissioners.Office@labor.nc.gov (919) 733-7166 or 800-NC-LABOR (625-2267) or 1101 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, 27699-1101
May we join Martin Luther King, Jr’s Jericho Road Improvement Association to make our fields safer for God’s family working in the fields. Good Samaritans are needed to improve the Jericho Road for all God’s children.