(En)gendering exposure: pregnant farmworkers and the inadequacy of pesticide notification

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In 2015, the EPA (USA) announced its intention to strengthen farmworker protections against pesticide exposure to include information on the hazards of pesticide exposure during pregnancy and how to reduce take-home exposure. While the new Worker Protection Standard is a laudable and long-overdue effort to enhance farmworker safety, we argue that an informational approach is inadequate, particularly for the women farmworkers who are the focus of the expanded training content. It is particularly deficient given new epigenetic knowledge that suggests a greatly expanded temporal and spatial horizon between pesticide exposure and effect. At the same time it puts an additional moral burden on women farmworkers who are made responsible for protecting future populations. The article draws in part on 55 interviews we conducted with farmworkers as part of a larger project on fumigation use in California's strawberry industry. Analysis of these interviews sheds light on the practical fallacies of an information-oriented regulatory program when most farm workers feel that not working is the bigger risk. We found that farmworker men and women already recognized the potential dangers of pesticide exposure without additional notification, yet farmworker women felt even more limited in their ability to protect themselves from exposure at the workplace. Farmworkers who worked during their pregnancies felt particularly at risk. Since these enhanced protections do not address the socio-cultural and eco-biologicalobstacles farmworker women face in protecting themselves and their future progeny from pesticide exposure, we suggest that they are primarily performative.

Keywords: Pesticide exposure, pesticide regulation, political ecology of the body, epigenetics, gender, responsibilization

How to Cite: Barbour, M. & Guthman, J. (2018) “(En)gendering exposure: pregnant farmworkers and the inadequacy of pesticide notification”, Journal of Political Ecology. 25(1). doi: