Mechanized Poison: Chemicals in California Agriculture 1958-65

Poisons in California Agriculture: A Capital Input for Profit

Grape Vineyard Poison Sign, 1964, Tulare County, CA.

Grape Vineyard Poison Sign, 1964, Tulare County, CA.

Just as agribusiness in California turned to mechanization of planting, watering and harvesting to reduce labor costs and increase profits, so too did it turn to chemical pesticide poisons and fertilizers derived from oil.  Widespread use of petrochemicals in agriculture followed the introduction of single (mono culture) crops planted over large areas of plowed up land.  Once plowing disrupts the living organisms and natural fertility of the soil, chemical fertilizers become necessary to produce a crop.  And once a single crop dominates the land, pests that feed on it can multiply like never before.  To control these insects and diseases, chemical pesticides and herbicides have to be used.  In the 1950’s and 1960s these chemicals were applied by workers who wore little or no protective gear. Exposure to these chemicals frequently made farm worker’s ill, crippling and disabling countless numbers who had neither health insurance nor coverage by the basic worker’s compensation laws that applied to non agricultural jobs. Today the use of chemicals has become more sophisticated and widespread, with increasingly serious health impacts on all those who touch it or consume it. Industrial agriculture is inconceivable without the widespread use of petrochemical inputs. Monsanto’s genetically modified organisms take industrial agriculture’s approach to land as a capital input to its ultimate expression, making the genetic structure of plants reflect the needs of capital and profit instead of good health and a sustainable system of food production.  And just like the application of pesticides and herbicides from previous eras such as shown in the image gallery below, the impact of these profit making techniques on the health of workers and consumers takes second place, as corporate control of the government destroys the oversight and regulatory functions needed to safeguard consumer’s health.

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