• Brenda Eskenazi, UC Berkeley epidemiology and maternal and child health professor 
  • Mary Jo Forbord, farmer and health advocate, Prairie Horizons Farms
  • Carey Gillam, managing editor, The New Lede
  • Arcenio López, executive director of Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project
  • Elizabeth Aguilera, AHCJ core topic leader/environmental health (moderator) 

By Allen Siegler

During her 17 years of reporting on companies like Monsanto and Dupont while at Reuters, Carey Gillam discovered that while these companies claimed they prioritized the health of consumers, documents from the mid-2000s between them and the EPA reveal they knew herbicides, such as glyphosate, were carcinogenic.

Gillam said when she raised these concerns to the companies and the EPA, efforts were made to discredit her reporting. Her advice was to be aware that powerful groups often purposely obscure truthful information if its disclosure could force action. 

As the first indigenous executive director of the Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project, Arecenio López shared parts of his personal narrative with the audience. He came to Oxnard, Ca. from Oaxco, Mexico, when he was 21. As an agricultural worker in Oxnard, López and other migrant workers were subject to on-the-job discrimination and health hazards. As many of his co-workers did not read English, they did not understand the danger warnings on agricultural chemicals. López now advocates for the health and well-being of other Mixteco indigenous farmers in California to ensure that they are treated with dignity.

Brenda Eskenazi discussed research she and her team undertook, funding by a grant they were awarded to study the health impacts of pesticides in children. Eskenazi identified dozens of pregnant people in California’s Central Valley, the vast majority of whom were either farmers or married to farmers. She followed both the pregnant people and their children for decades, collecting data from biosamples, surveys and health exams. 

She and others have published hundreds of studies from this longitudinal study, most of which highlight how farmers and their children are exposed to chemicals that are linked to adverse health effects. Eskenazi has enrolled more study participants since the initial group, and the project continues to this day.

As a fifth-generation farmer in Benson, Minn., Mary Jo Forbord shared her and her family’s experiences. She noted how in the 1960s, in the wake of the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” people felt optimistic that the food system would be redesigned to improve health. It’s now obvious that did not happen, Forbord said. She said chemical advances in herbicides have not only harmed consumers but harmed the health of her family. While Forbord expressed some optimism about future generations’ commitment to reduced-chemical farming, she thinks it will take corporate accountability to really move the needle. 

Additional resources

Allen Siegler is the public health reporter at Mountain State Spotlight, a nonprofit newsroom covering issues in West Virginia.