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MARCH 31, 2003
11:16 AM
CONTACT:  Food First * International Forum on Globalization * * Pesticide Action Network * Public Citizen *
Tracy Lerman, 510-663-0888

On Cesar Chavez Day, Concern Looms over USDA BiotechConference
USDA Sponsored Event Promoting Agenda That Favors Agribusiness And Hurts Farm Workers, Say Activists
OAKLAND, CA - March 31 - While labor activists nationwide celebrate the 76th birthday of United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez, many are concerned that a USDA sponsored Trade Ministerial and Agriculture Expo in Sacramento undermines the work to which Chavez dedicated his life.

The Ministerial and Expo, to be held June 23-25, brings together ministers from 180 nations to showcase controversial agricultural technologies - including genetic engineering, irradiation and pesticides - and to discuss and promote trade liberalization policies. Environmental, labor, farming and social justice organizations share a critique of this agenda, which favors large agribusiness and multinational corporations at the expense of farm workers and small scale farmers.

"We have come to a point where farm workers have achieved tremendous victories - collective bargaining, higher wages - but there is still so much more to be done," said Tracy Lerman, senior organizer with Public Citizen's Oakland, Calif. office. "By sponsoring this trade show, the USDA is turning its back on farm workers and on the achievements that Cesar Chavez spent three decades fighting for."

Agricultural trade liberalization is chief among the concerns surrounding this ministerial. These policies have allowed large corporate farming interests to move their operations overseas, where labor and environmental protections are minimal and wages are lower. While domestic jobs are lost, farmers overseas are forced to give up their land and work on large corporate farms that focus on export cash crops rather than food crops. Moreover, as developing countries are coerced to eliminate these protections in order to attract foreign investors, farm workers compete for decreasing wages and increasingly dangerous jobs.

"Many of these agricultural technologies that corporate agribusiness and the USDA claim 'will feed the world,' are killing the farm workers that grow our food. What's more, the free trade polices advanced by the USDA, which essentially hand over control of the food system to multinational corporations, are contingent on the full-scale acceptance of these technologies," said Ellen Hickey, program coordinator with Pesticide Action Network. "Farm workers will be among the hardest hit if the goals of this Ministerial are achieved."

Farm workers have long been threatened by exposure to pesticides, one of the many technologies championed by the USDA and corporate farming interests. Pesticide-related illnesses, including cancer and birth defects, threaten farm workers more than any other sector of society, and were the reason for a 36-day fast endured by Chavez in 1988. NGOs fear that continued trade liberalization will allow corporate farms to move operations to countries where the most toxic pesticides, like DDT, are still being used.

The selection of Sacramento as the location of this ministerial highlights the frustration many feel towards the USDA for putting corporate farm interests before farm workers and small-scale farmers. Sacramento was the destination of the 343 mile march, beginning in Fresno that UFW members participated in a year after Chavez's death, on his 67th birthday.

Organization, farmers, and concerned citizens plan to ensure that this ministerial will provide an opportunity educate the public about these issues, and to organize for policies that promote fair trade, ecologically friendly agriculture, strong labor and environmental regulations, and food security for all.


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