BELLE GLADE, FL — Today the Stop the Burn – Go Green Harvest Campaign leadership released a statement marking the beginning of the 2021-22 pre-harvest burn season that has been sent, with an accompanying video, to those current public officials named in the statement.
On the eve of yet another pre-harvest sugar field burn season, the Stop the Burn – Go Green Campaign leadership has a message for all those in power who are callously complicit in the continuance of the outdated, toxic and racist practice of pre-harvest sugar field burning: We deserve better.
Despite recent ground-breaking and revelatory investigative reporting uncovering (1) the lengths to which the sugar industry will go to stop us from improving our lives and our community, and (2) data which further supports existing mountains of medical research from around the world substantiating the common-sense understanding that pre-harvest sugar field burning pollution is harmful, the next harvesting season is set to begin on Oct. 1. Residents in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) will once again be bombarded by toxic smoke and ash that needlessly threatens their health, pocketbooks, quality of life and surrounding environment for the sake of a cheaper harvest for the multibillion-dollar Florida sugar industry. We deserve better.
Commissioner Fried's indifference to our plight is a crime. She has failed to reflect her party's work championing the rights of the disenfranchised by refusing to lift a finger to end an injustice that she alone, as Florida's commissioner of agriculture, has the power and authority to right. We deserve better.
Our local elected officials have betrayed us. They have ignored the benefits of green harvesting to our economy, public health and our children's future. Whether because of greed, fear or cowardice, they have promoted the status quo, by parroting Big Sugar propaganda, to the detriment of their constituents' lives and livelihoods. When it comes to the sugar industry, they sell us out, every time. We deserve better.
Our state lawmakers act only to further condemn us to the dangers of smoke and ash. Big Sugar gets what Big Sugar wants from the state legislature and Governor DeSantis. The passage of SB 88, the "right to harm act," this past legislative session was a case in point. We deserve better.
Our members of Congress have failed us. After hearing the truth reported by the Palm Beach Post and ProPublica, U.S. Congress members Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch called for additional studies and monitoring of the pollution that chokes our families. Where are their calls for an end to this outdated, toxic, racist practice? Why should we have to wait for studies when Eastern Palm Beach County residents have been protected for 30 years without that extra data? It is so very easy to call for more data — a popular move by politicians and candidates alike — which can be tossed to the press without putting their sugar industry campaign donation hush money at risk. Anything less than calling for the sugar industry to immediately begin the phase out of pre-harvest sugar field burning is simply political theater.
The Federal Sugar Program, faithfully passed by Congress, provides sugar producers with wildly high profits nearly twice, on average, as high per pound than what sugar is worth on the global market, thereby removing any incentive to modernize. Sugar growers in Thailand, Australia, Brazil, India and Zimbabwe have eschewed pre-harvest burning and have moved toward burn-free green harvesting because it is the right thing to do for its neighbors, the environment and their own long-term economic benefits. The cruel avarice of U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals and their purchase of our nation's members of Congress combine to keep us shrouded in smoke and ash. We deserve better.
U.S. Sugar's propaganda — via billboards, mailers, paid advertisements and false narratives — is a direct attack on our communities. The use of multiple operatives acting on U.S. Sugar's behalf, under the guise of S.A.F.E. Communities, Glades Lives Matter and the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce, Lake Okeechobee Business Alliance, is a shameless, ruthless attempt to deny us a brighter future. Lies and innuendo are U.S. Sugar's most promoted product. We deserve better.
Florida Crystals has wasted its opportunity to lead the way on green harvesting and denied itself and its neighbors the benefits that come from burn-free sugar production. Their production of organic sugar in the Glades proves that they can and do green harvest (sugar cannot be labeled "organic" if burned pre-harvest) but they refuse to fully embrace it. We deserve better.
The Florida Forest Service (FFS) approves over 11,000 burn permits each year, only when the black snow won't blow toward Eastern Palm Beach County. Because burns cannot be permitted if the wind will send smoke and ash towards the eastern communities, we get smothered by it. The state's sugarcane burning program is managed solely for the profits of the sugar industry, not for any ecological welfare or wildfire prevention and completely contrary to public health, real estate values, economic growth and quality of life of all who live in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area. If burning is not allowed when smoke and ash is headed toward Eastern Palm Beach County, then it shouldn't be allowed when it blows toward Belle Glade, Clewiston, Indiantown, Ortona, Pahokee or South Bay. We deserve equal treatment and protection.
Palm Beach County Department of Health's protection of the sugar industry casts serious doubt on the integrity of the entire agency. Shielding Big Sugar from the responsibility it has to protect public health is unconscionable, a true perversion of the agency's mission, and a betrayal of public trust. Director Dr. Alina Alonso's failure to respond to or address public health issues related to the smoke and ash that pervades the Glades and beyond would be hard to believe if we were not well-versed in Big Sugar's manipulation of state agencies and their leaders. We deserve better.
The Palm Beach County School Board has sold its soul, and the welfare of its students, to Big Sugar. The black snow that can travel well over 20 miles impacts every school, school child and educator in the EAA should have long ago prompted the school board to oppose pre-harvest burning. Instead, the district adds insult to injury by leasing land adjacent to Rosenwald Elementary School in South Bay, Pahokee Middle-High School and the district's bus depot in Belle Glade, where known toxic pollutants are emitted from pre-harvest sugar field burning. Our children, teachers and school staff deserve better.
Too many in power either actively participate in or abet one of the most pronounced examples of environmental racism found in the state of Florida. We deserve better.
We call on all who have been complicit to change their course. Cease to be a part of the problem and join our demand for a phaseout of pre-harvest sugar field burning that begins with an immediately implemented 27-mile no-burn zone around impacted communities. Because we deserve better.
This statement comes not from "outsiders" but real community residents and leaders!
Colin Walkes - Pahokee