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Public Health, Immigration Reform and Food System Change

January 01, 2017
CLF Report

Claire Fitch, Carolyn Hricko, Robert Martin

This paper reviews the public health impacts facing agricultural and meat processing workers in the United States (U.S.)—particularly immigrant workers—and their families due to the inherent risks associated with the predominant industrial model’s production protocols and system structure. The paper provides an overview of the health risks and impacts associated with agricultural labor, low wages, poor housing conditions, and other challenges typically facing agricultural and meat processing workers. It explores how immigrant workers are especially vulnerable to these impacts due to factors including fear of job loss or deportation, limited access to health care, agricultural exceptionalism in labor laws, and inadequate guest worker programs. It presents evidence to support the idea that the security and resiliency of the U.S. food system is jeopardized by the health impacts facing immigrant workers and the barriers that restrict workers from advocating for improved working conditions. It concludes with a discussion of the need for comprehensive immigration reform in order to protect workers, the U.S. food system, and the public’s health and includes recommendations for the reform of immigration policies, in addition to shorter-term policy recommendations in the absence of immigration reform.