As a child growing up on his family’s subsistence farm in Puebla, Mexico, Abel Luna loved helping to plant corn and other crops. But in 2001, when he turned 13, his enthusiasm quickly evaporated. That’s when Luna began traveling to New York’s black dirt region to “sell his labor,” working alongside his father in commercial vegetable crop fields. Where once he took pride in “growing [our] own food at [our] own pace,” he now began working 14-hour or longer days from February through November. In addition to a grueling schedule and poor living conditions, Luna remembers “pretty much a lack of every kind of equipment that you need”: gloves, glasses, and masks to protect him from contact with agricultural chemicals. A day spent picking tomatoes would end with his arms sticky from pesticide residue, hands burning, eyes itching. Furthermore, he said there was “no one from any health agency to talk about pesticide exposure or any rights that you have.”

Luna’s experience is hardly an anomaly. Two new studies, from the Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), exhibit just how susceptible all migratory farm workers are to dangers like pesticide exposure. Some states, like Washington and California, have implemented legislation that’s meant to better protect farm workers from such hazardous conditions. But a closer look reveals that existing laws at both state and federal levels largely fail to protect those most in need of intervention: the (likely under-)estimated 524,000 children, some as young as 10, many of whom are migrants, laboring every year on U.S. farms. Beyond that, Luna, who’s now campaign coordinator at worker organizing non-profit Migrant Justice, said there’s a huge disparity between what the laws we do have mandate and “making it happen on the ground. To make sure farms are compliant—it’s impossible.”

Children in farming can work as long and as hard as adults, often for less money. A 16-year-old can work pretty much any farm job, while in many states, 12-year-olds can legally work on any farm with a parent’s permission as long as they don’t miss school (Luna did not attend school while working, testament to how lax enforcement is). Generally speaking under the Fair Labor Standards Act, an employer can pay a youth minimum wage of no less than $4.25/hr to employees under the age of 20 for the first 90 consecutive days of work, although they might not even pay that.

Read the full article about pesticide laws by Lela Nargi at The Counter.