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Catholic Church Helps Warn Farmworkers About Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, July 19, 2004)
On July 13, 2004, the Associated Press reported that the National Catholic Rural Life Conference has begun offering pesticide training to farmworkers in Yakima Valley of Washington State. The instructions -- separate work clothes in the laundry, wash up before touching the children -- aren't new. They've been delivered before, but often not in Spanish, rarely in such detail and never by an institution that many farmworkers trust: the Roman Catholic Church.

"It's not a typical thing that Catholic parishes do," said Tim Kautza, science and environmental education specialist for the conference, a private, non-profit organization. "With this audience having a great tie to the Catholic Church, looking at the church as a place that provides a safe environment, a trusting environment, it fills the need."

The idea was sparked during a board meeting in the Yakima Valley, an agricultural region -- heavy with apples, cherries, grapes and hops -- that relies largely on Hispanic labor. Bishop Carlos Sevilla, whose diocese covers seven Central Washington counties, agreed that the training was a perfect fit for his parishioners.

"I think any church, certainly ours, is looking for the well-being of the whole person -- their relationship with God, their well-being spiritually has a lot to do with their well-being physically," Bishop Sevilla said. "The purpose is to help the people in the fields preserve their health."”

Federal and state regulations require farmworkers to receive pesticide safety training from their employers -- growers or farmers. The training sessions, however, don't stress the law and are seen by environmentalists and public health advocates as inadequate.

The sessions offered by the Catholic group target women and children, who are more likely to miss pesticide training as they work seasonally to supplement the family income.

For more information on farmworkers and pesticides, contact Beyond Pesticides. We also recommend visiting the Farmworker Justice Fund website for more information. You may read the full AP story on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website.