Sugarcane burning in the Glades communities poses a severe threat to human health.
Every year during the 6-8 month harvest season, residents in the Glades are exposed to raining ash and smoke polluted with toxins linked to serious health issues like asthma, bronchitis, cancer, kidney disease, cardiac disease, and higher infant mortality rates.
Research shows that young children, the elderly, and those with recurring respiratory ailments are the most severely impacted. Nebulizers and inhalers are used daily during the burn season, and many are told by their doctors that the best long-term solution is to move to a different area -- which is not feasible for many Glades residents.
Who is in charge?
By law, there is only one office holder in Florida who can force change – Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried – whom the Everglades Trust supported when she ran for the office and still supports today.
It's time for Commissioner Fried to force the sugar industry to modernize. She must reject the sugar industry's lobbyists and listen to the CDC, along with more than 200 religious and environmental organizations, including the Everglades Trust, demanding a phased-out approach and an ultimate ban on cane burning in Florida.
Big Sugar’s smoke and mirrors.
BIG SUGAR LIE regarding crop yield: "Without the burns, we'll go out of business!"
THE TRUTH: In experiments, researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences found that Florida sugarcane fields that are mechanically harvested produce roughly as many tons of sugar as fields that have been burned. Following a three-year trial conducted in Belle Glade, researchers concluded in a 2017 paper that “no significant effect of harvest system [i.e., pre-harvest burning vs. green harvesting] was observed in final yields in Florida,” and that “the effect of green cane harvest on sugarcane yields in Florida and Costa Rica was neutral compared to burnt cane harvest.”
BIG SUGAR LIE regarding air quality: "We follow all the required guidelines!"
THE 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 it doesn’t function continuously.
BIG SUGAR LIE regarding jobs: “Eliminating pre-harvest burning will decimate the sugarcane industry!”
THE 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.
BIG SUGAR LIE regarding harm to the soil: “Controlled burns are good for the soil.”
THE TRUTH: Not true with sugarcane. One of the world’s foremost experts on sugarcane harvesting, Dr. Andrew Wood, explains: “Agriculture as currently practiced in the Everglades Agricultural Area has a limited future due to the continued oxidation of the peat soils and their destruction by burning. Extensive land subsidence has already occurred on the muck soils and this is likely to continue rapidly while crops like sugarcane are burnt and little organic matter is returned to the soil. A system of sugarcane production where the soil is always covered with a thick ‘trash’ blanket (industry terminology for mulch and other organic debris produced in green harvesting) would be much more sustainable.”
How did we get here?
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.
Armed with science, fearless leaders throughout the region are pushing back on the status quo and demanding change to the pre-harvest burns.
These burns choke the air with chemicals and soot every year from October through May, and October is right around the corner.
Fine particulate matter from the cane burns gets deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream, and has been linked to serious problems, including heart attacks, chronic bronchitis, diabetes, aggravated asthma and decreased lung function.
What can be done?
Fortunately, there is a mechanical alternative to this pre-harvesting practice that is already implemented in sugarcane fields around the world, including in Louisiana, which is the nation’s second highest producer of sugarcane and including some fields in the Glades. Green Harvesting works for the sugar industry and for their neighbors in the community.
This is not a partisan issue. Floridians of all stripes – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – are all coming together with one voice to say: Stop the Burn!
To learn more about this cheap but dangerous method of harvesting sugarcane, please explore these links: