Committee Votes To Cut Fees For Pesticide Companies, Worrying Farmworker Advocate

Mar 29, 2017
Originally published on March 28, 2017 5:54 pm

State lawmakers want to cut fees for the manufacturers of harmful pesticides. That could make it cheaper for chemical companies to sell their products in the state. But a critic of the measure is worried how the change could affect farmworkers’ health.

Tirso Moreno leads the Farmworker Association of Florida, and he spends a lot of his time on pesticide education. He says pesticide exposure is making workers sick.

“Chronic respiratory problems...we have a lot of people with cancer. Those are just two problems. We have a lot of people with skin problems, with chronic headaches, you name it,” Moreno said.

Back in the 1960s, Florida began screening produce for dangerous levels of pesticides. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency keeps tabs on potentially harmful chemicals that should only be consumed in certain amounts. The state’s Chemical Residue Laboratory makes sure Florida produce stays below those levels. Currently, manufacturers of those potentially harmful pesticides help pay for the testing through supplemental fees. But Jonesville Republican Representative Chuck Clemons wants to change that.

“The proposed committee bill today eliminates the supplemental fee,” Clemons said.

In a committee meeting Tuesday, Coconut Creek Democratic Representative Kristin Jacobs asked how cutting into the lab’s funding could affect its operations.

“What is the offset to that, where are these funds coming from, particularly in a tight budget year? I guess what I want to know is where are these dollars going to come from now as a result of it being funded through the state without the user fee?” Jacobs asked.

Representative Clemons says the state used to pick up the tab, until the Great Recession. In 2009, pesticide manufacturers agreed to shoulder the testing costs by paying supplemental fees, on top of regular registration costs.

“Now that the state is no longer in a state of exigency, the industry is wanting to put this back to the state,” Clemons said.

House lawmakers say the economy has recovered, freeing up the state to fund the lab entirely. And they say the change won’t affect operations. But Auburndale Republican Representative Neil Combee says eliminating the fee could encourage more manufacturers to bring their business to Florida.

“So it keeps some people from having access to certain products that may be beneficial, but they’re not available because we’re just not going to register and pay the fee. So this will eliminate that problem as well,” Combee said.

That worries Tirso Moreno. He says eliminating the supplemental fees will open the door for more potentially harmful pesticides. And more exposure for farmworkers.

“It’s gonna be worse for the workers. They’re continually putting pesticides on the market and more tests have to be done, as I say before. The situation is going to be worse for us,” Moreno said.

The House is fast-tracking the measure. After a single committee hearing, the measure is ready for a floor vote.

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