Cornfield

Monsanto, the biotech company that manufacturers glyphosate pesticide-resistant genetically modified Roundup Ready seeds, has announced changes in safety procedures for handling its GMO corn after the death of two Illinois teens and injuries to six other workers.

The two teens, Jade Garza and Hannah Kendall, both 14, were detasseling the Monsanto corn when killed last week. Detasseling is a process of removing the pollen flowers atop the corn stalks to reduce pollination and cross-contamination, and is considered a rite of passage for youth in the Midwest Corn Belt. While most commercial corn is detasseled with machines, it’s a common practice to have the teens follow up after the machine by walking through the cornfields to remove any remaining blooms.

The deaths occurred when the teens were electrocuted by a pivot irrigation system integral to the GMO cornfields, which Monsanto now says growers must unplug before detasseling crews can enter the fields. Workers were also advised to stay at least 10 yards away from the pivots, and are not to touch, climb or step over pivot irrigation wheels or pipes, in order to avoid the risk of electrocution. Phone calls to Monsanto about what caused its irrigation system malfunction were not returned.

Farming has traditionally been a high-risk job. According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, more than 700 lives are lost each year in farm-related accidents, and more than 150,000 injuries to farm workers are also reported each year. And, because children under age 15 are legally allowed to work on farms—which often includes handling dangerous machinery and tools—farm work has the highest injury rate among children workers.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

image: Laszlo Nagy HU