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Poisonous treatment

We treat dogs and cats and many wild animals more humanely than we treat farm workers. In fact, farm workers _ the men, women and children who harvest fruits and vegetables for our tables _ often are treated as if they are lower than animals.

Evidence of our inhumanity to these workers is all around, in places such as Ruskin, Balm, Wimauma. Every day, farm workers in these settlements are abused. Many, including young children, are poisoned by pesticides. Why? So that the rest of us can eat fresh produce simply by pushing grocery carts along shiny aisles at our air-conditioned markets, merely by plucking our favorite selections from artfully lit display bins.

Do we care that 5{ years after they were poisoned while picking cauliflower at Goodson Farms in Balm, the farm workers involved still haven't received real justice? Apparently, few of us care, because no public outcry has reached Tallahassee or Washington.

For the record, these are the events that occurred at Goodson Farms about a week before Thanksgiving in 1989: Workers were ordered to return _ 24 hours too soon _ to fields that had been treated with Phosdrin, a highly toxic pesticide. By late afternoon, 112 workers, some entire families, had become sick. The workers sued. Obviously, they wanted to be monetarily compensated for the risks their employer had exposed them to. Goodson Farms and its attorneys, however, created a tangle of legal hoops that have frustrated the farm workers and their families.

But money is not everything to the workers. They also sued to get needed reforms in a good-ol'-boy system in which growers, legislators and chemical companies often sleep in the same bed. The workers want the federal government to implement and enforce a group of regulations, called the Worker Protection Standard, that will protect them from repeats of the kind of risks they faced at Goodson. So far, though, pesticide firms and growers have been able to stall the reform efforts.

And now, with Republican lawmakers siding with industry in such cases, and with anti-immigrant sentiment on the rise in Florida, farm workers in this area and elsewhere in Florida face even more hard times. These people, most of whom are honest, hard-working laborers, deserve better from us. Where is our moral outrage?