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EPA Considers Bilingual Pesticide Labels, Public Comments Needed

(Beyond Pesticides, May 17, 2011) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has received a petition from the Migrant Clinicians Network, Farmworker Justice, and other farmworker interest groups asking the agency to require that manufacturers make their pesticide product labels available in both English and Spanish. EPA is inviting public comment until June 28, 2011 (see Docket # EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0014-0001 and submit comments). After the 90-day comment period ends, the agency will use the comments received in developing a decision on this petition. Farmworker groups are asking people to submit comments to EPA supporting the petition. See talking points below.

Currently, pesticide labels are only required to be in English. This policy has a disproportionate impact on farmworkers, particularly pesticide applicators, who primarily speak Spanish, with little or no ability to speak or read English. As a consequence, they cannot read the pesticide labels and do not understand the pesticide use directions, the personal protective equipment (PPE) required or the instructions to avoid contamination of water bodies. The current provision, which directs Spanish-speaking workers themselves to get the label translated, is grossly inadequate. In a recent study in Washington State, farmworkers who could not read English exhibited higher rates of pesticide exposure than workers who could read English. Without the benefit of a foreign language label, these farmworkers are ill-equipped to protect themselves, others, or the environment.

The petition focuses on requiring bilingual labeling for agricultural pesticides to increase protection for Spanish-speaking pesticide applicators and farmworkers. However, the agency is requesting comment on whether to require bilingual labeling in English and Spanish for all types of pesticide products. At present, EPA allows pesticide manufacturers to add labeling in other languages, in addition to providing pesticide product labels in English. For agricultural products subject to the Worker Protection Standard, EPA requires that certain parts of the pesticide label include words or phrases in Spanish. In response to the petition, EPA is considering whether to require bilingual labeling in English and Spanish for all pesticides or for only certain types of pesticides, certain pesticide use sites, certain pesticide active ingredients, pesticides in certain toxicity categories, or certain parts of pesticide labels. The agency is requesting comment from interested parties and the public on these options.

Beyond Pesticides encourages consumers to support a pesticide-free workplace for farmworkers by supporting organic agriculture (see Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience website). USDA organic certification is the only system of food labeling that is subject to independent public review and oversight, assuring consumers that toxic, synthetic pesticides used in conventional agriculture are replaced by management practices focused on soil biology, biodiversity, and plant health. This eliminates commonly used toxic chemicals in the production and processing of food that is not labeled organic–pesticides that contaminate our water and air, hurt biodiversity, harm farmworkers, and kill bees, birds, fish and other wildlife. Because farmworkers continue to be exposed to toxic pesticides in conventional chemical-intensive farming operations and face other hardships as well, Beyond Pesticides also encourages the public to respond to this petition and support farmworker organizations.

Bilingual pesticide labeling talking points

Requiring pesticide manufacturers to label their products in English and Spanish will reduce incidents of pesticide poisoning.

— Pesticide labels communicate information critical to the prevention of adverse effects to human health and the environment. This includes warnings and precautionary statements, first aid information, personal protective equipment, and directions for safe use.

— The agricultural workforce is overwhelmingly foreign born, and the majority speak Spanish. According to the National Agricultural Worker Survey (NAWS), 81% of farmworkers reported Spanish as their native language, and 53% of the farmworkers said they cannot speak, read, or write English. In a recent study of pesticide handlers in Washington State, only 29% reported being able to read in English but nearly all of the participants were able to read in Spanish to at least some degree. These workers therefore do not understand the pesticide use directions, the personal protective equipment (PPE) required, emergency decontamination instructions, or the instructions to avoid environmental contamination.

— Growers and pesticide applicators in Puerto Rico, where Spanish is the official language, are now using pesticide products that have labels entirely in English. The only exception is for Restricted Use Pesticides, which must have Spanish labels to be sold in Puerto Rico.

— Pesticide handlers who do not read English are more likely to be exposed than handlers who read English. Researchers found that pesticide handlers who were not able to read English had greater exposure rates than handlers who could read English at least to some degree.

— Studies have shown that Latino farmworkers are disproportionately exposed to pesticides. Between 1998 and 2005, state and federal tracking systems identified 3,281 cases of acute occupational pesticide poisonings among farmworkers. Of these cases, 727 (22%) included information on the worker’s race or ethnicity. Of these 727 cases, 502 (69%) were Hispanic.

— Current regulations place a heavy burden on both workers and employers to provide their own translation. The following statement appears buried in the labels of the two most toxic categories of pesticides: “Si Usted no entiende la etiqueta, busque a alguien para que se la explique a Usted en detalle. [If you do not understand the label, find someone to explain it to you in detail.]” 40 CFR 156.206(e)

— Farmworkers and their family members are disproportionately exposed to pesticides and suffer adverse health effects.

Costs to pesticide manufacturers would be small compared to the benefits to workers, their families, rural communities and the environment.

— Translation, printing, packaging, and other costs of complying with bilingual labeling requirements will not add significantly to manufacturing costs or prices to customers.

— Manufacturers of pesticides routinely translate their labels into Spanish as well as many other languages in order to sell them worldwide. Restricted use pesticides (RUPs) sold in Puerto Rico already have Spanish-language labels.

The Federal Register notice and petition are available in docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0014 at Regulations.gov.


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