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
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.