Big Sugar's Pre-Harvest of Shame
The Fanjuls of Florida Crystals and the Motts-Whites of U.S. Sugar – Big Sugar. These sugar barons give farming a bad name.
They pollute the Everglades, our rivers, our coastlines, and Lake Okeechobee. They choke off the freshwater supply for all South Florida, desecrating a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.
And every year, using an archaic but cheap method to preharvest their crop, they set 400,000 acres of the Everglades on fire – releasing particulate matter, dioxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, elemental carbon, and organic carbon into the air, soil and water.
The practice causes harm to human health and the environment, even though today’s technology allows for mechanical harvesting, which is being mandated around the world, and switched to voluntarily by some sugar growers in Louisiana.
Enter a Federal Class Action Lawsuit
For far too long, the families who have made these small cities their home have feared retribution from the sugar industry for their complaints. So, for decades they remained silent and in harm’s way.
But they are no longer silent. They are fighting back.
Two years ago, a Florida law firm filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of men and women who live in the poor communities where sugar is burned. That case is snaking its way through the legal process as we speak.
Enter the Florida Legislature
Big Sugar knows they’re likely to lose on the law, so now they work to change the law.
Right now, there is legislation written by and for Big Sugar – SB 88/HB 1601 – racing through the annual legislative session that would render this class action lawsuit moot and hold the sugar industry harmless for their misdeeds. The Sun Sentinel nailed it when they described the legislation Florida’s ‘Right to farm’ bill protects the right to harm.
Overcoming the barrage of lies, misdirects, misinformation and spin that comes from more than 100 sugar lobbyists and attorneys, is not easy. Politicians in Tallahassee are not experts on these issues – so they fall prey to the “experts.” And fallen prey, they have.
What We Need
We need the Legislature to push pause. Floridians deserve a fair fight in this. The only way that will happen is if the Legislature allows us some time and access to present the other side to all this nonsense – and not just three minutes during public comment.
Most of our elected officials want to be fair. They want to do the right thing. But if they don’t have all the facts, it’s almost impossible for them to do so.
So, we are asking them to slow down and get all the facts. If we’re wrong, they can bring this legislation back next year. If we’re right, they will be heroes. And who doesn’t want to be a hero?!
We highlight the worst of Big Sugar’s spin here.
Myth regarding this Bill: "This has nothing to do with the already filed Class Action Lawsuit – that’s a federal case!”
Truth: The lawsuit is most certainly affected by the bill. The lawsuit is based entirely on state statutes and state law principles. The lawsuit is in federal court because it is a class action and is required to be heard in federal court. Federal courts routinely address state law claims and are bound by state law in doing so.
Myth regarding air quality: "We follow all the required guidelines!"
Truth: Big Sugar’s lobbying and legal teams write the guidelines and laws, then claim to follow the regulations and laws. Right now, there is only one air quality monitor in the Glades, which is responsible for measuring 700-square miles of sugarcane burns. And that one monitor only measures one of the toxins the burns produce and doesn’t function continuously.
Myth regarding jobs: “Eliminating pre-harvest burning will decimate the sugarcane industry!”
Truth: Switching to modern methods would boost both jobs and profits for the industry. Their false choice – that residents must choose jobs or clean, clear air – is just untrue. Research from the University of Florida found no significant effect in final yields between mechanical harvesting and pre-harvest burns.
Myth regarding harm to the soil: “Controlled burns are good for the soil.”
Truth: Not with sugarcane. One of the world’s foremost experts on sugarcane harvesting, Dr. Andrew Wood, explains: “Agriculture as currently practiced in the EAA has a limited future due to the continued oxidation of the peat soils and their destruction by burning.”