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Advancing Sustainable Agriculture

A farmworker harvests strawberries in Salinas, California.

A farmworker harvests strawberries in Salinas, California. Farmworkers represent the backbone of our agricultural economy and their work is some of the most physically demanding labor in any economic sector. They are also among the least protected from hazards on the job and have one of the highest rates of chemical exposures among all U.S. workers.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

Earthjustice is working to reduce harmful substances so that the air we breathe, the water we drink and the products we use don’t harm our bodies or our environment.

Our Sustainable Food & Farming Program works to improve the nation’s food system, from crop selection and farming practices to food processing and accessibility. Learn about the Sustainable Food & Farming Program.

Industrial agriculture encourages the heavy use of genetically modified crops that lead to the application of large amounts of dangerous pesticides. Factory farms, which often house tens of thousands of animals, create massive amounts of toxic waste that fouls nearby waterways and air quality. Despite these issues and others, little regulation for the industrial agriculture industry exists.

Factory farms are doused in chemicals. Each year, hundreds of millions of pounds of pesticides are used in U.S. agriculture. Pesticides have been linked to a wide range of human health problems, ranging from short-term impacts like headaches to chronic impacts like reproductive harm and cancer.

Earthjustice is advancing sustainable agriculture by:

  1. Working to keep the most dangerous pesticides out of our fields and food supply, including methyl iodide, sulfoxaflor and chlorpyrifos—toxic chemicals that have been linked to serious health and environmental effects. In 2013, after bowing to pressure from Earthjustice activists and attorneys, the maker of methyl iodide pulled its product from the U.S. market. Earthjustice is also challenging the EPA’s approved use of azinphos-methyl and phosmet, two highly dangerous agricultural chemicals that attack human nervous systems and can cause death.
  2. Challenging the federal government’s approval of crops like sugar beets and alfalfa that are genetically modified to withstand large doses of toxic herbicides. So-called Roundup Ready™ crops allow farmers to apply large quantities of the herbicide glyphosate to their fields without harming the crop, but this practice accelerates herbicide-resistant "superweeds, increases herbicide use, and can potentially contaminate conventionally grown and organic plants.
  3. Protecting farmworkers and children from dangerous pesticides. Earthjustice is challenging the U.S. EPA’s failure to protect our children from exposure to toxic pesticides that drift from agricultural fields and contaminate areas where children congregate, such as homes, parks, schools and daycare centers. Earthjustice has also petitioned the EPA to strengthen long overdue pesticide protections for farmworkers, seeking to eliminate the existing dual standard providing fewer workplace protections against pesticide exposures for farmworkers than for workers using hazardous chemicals in non-agricultural sectors.
  4. Upholding the right of people to sue pesticide manufacturers to compensate for injuries caused by toxic pesticides. Earthjustice VP of Litigation Patti Goldman was the chief author of the friend of the court brief.
  5. Fighting the deregulation of industrial farming operations, which pollute the air and water with massive amounts of animal waste. Factory farms, also known as Confined Animal Feeding Operations (or "CAFOs"), are large-scale livestock facilities that confine large numbers of animals in relatively small spaces. A large factory farm may contain upwards of 1,000 cattle, 2,500 hogs or 125,000 chickens and can generate a massive amount of waste containing high levels of toxic pollutants.