May 9, 2005



Florida is committed to pursuing pesticide complaints


I would like to respond to some of the recent articles regarding pesticide use and farmworker safety protections in Florida (most recently, "Pesticide watchdog called ag lap dog," May 1).

As commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, I take seriously my responsibility for regulating pesticide use and ensuring a safe working environment for all farmworkers. This department accepts nothing short of full compliance with all federal and state laws, and the department aggressively investigates all complaints and takes action when violations are verified. I cannot stress enough how important it is that complaints be filed as soon as possible after the alleged violations. If significant time passes before we receive the complaints, it is more difficult to corroborate the complaint.

I understand that many workers refuse to come forward with complaints out of fear of deportation or job loss. The Farm Workers Association of Florida, the Migrant Farm Worker Justice Project and other advocacy groups can contact us on behalf of an individual, and the department has a toll-free hot line to file complaints (800-633-3572). This fear is one reason why I support federal legislation that would provide farmworkers with some type of legal status. With documentation, workers would be more willing to come forward.

Farmworkers are critical to the success of the agriculture industry. Every agricultural worker should have the comfort of both working and living in a safe environment. While state resources have been limited, I was able to secure four new positions dedicated solely to farmworker safety issues in last year's legislative session.

While I believe that some of the information presented in the recent series of articles gave an incomplete picture of the problem, these articles bring more attention to an issue that I care deeply about and one that I am committed to addressing. I hope that it will spark more constructive input about things we can do to improve on our efforts.

CHARLES H. BRONSON, commissioner of agriculture