Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Immigration and the Globalization of Food

The New York Times reports today that the new Democratic leadership is considering reviving immigration legislation that floundered because of Republican opposition right before the November elections. The new legistlation would create paths to citizenship for immigrants and their families who can show that they have been working and not breaking criminal law that poses physcial threats.

The article reports that the immigration reform movement is getting support from American farmers who last year had to watch thousands of acres of crops go to waste because there were not enough workers during harvest time. One farmer claims that if some reform doesn't occur, allowing Mexican labor to work the fields, then key agricultural industries will be "outsourced" to foreign countries.

This globalization of the food chain is worrisome not only because of the loss of American agricultural jobs and the erosion of American farmers. It also raises questions about the health and quality of the produce in the chain.

A couple of years ago, The Orange County Registar did an investigation which found high levels of lead in candy imported from Mexico. Much of the contamination came from the packaging of the candy and there were also indications of lead contamination in the soil where the chile was grown that was put on the candy.

This reminded me of accounts by a friend who studied farmworker conditions in Chile and told me that pesticides are continually used on grapes grown there. It turns out that in some seasons almost 90% of the grapes available in the United States are grown in Chile. In fact, some groups argue that significant portions of the fruits and vegetables imported to the United States test positive for high levels of pesiticides, some which are banned in the U.S. Recent studies show that children are much more sensitive to these chemicals and their effects.

In a globalizing world, concerns of immigration reform matter for the health and safety of all.

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