Bilingual labeling

By Lina Younes

When I first joined the Agency in 2002, I was responsible for doing outreach to Spanish-language media and Hispanic organizations. As part of my job, I worked closely with EPA offices, especially with the Office of Pesticide Programs, to increase Hispanic awareness on the safe use of pesticides and other environmental issues. Even today, I recall one of my very first live radio interviews during National Poison Prevention Week At the end of the interview, there was a call-in segment. The last question was from a lady who painted the following scenario: “What if I don’t have a phone and my child swallows some detergent accidentally, what do I do? Do I make him throw up or do I give him milk? What should I do?” Well, I told her to “read the label first” where she would find valuable information regarding what to do in case of an emergency. Still to this day I think of the situation and imagine if she was physically isolated by not having a phone, it was possible she might be linguistically isolated as well. Therefore, if she only read Spanish having an English-only label would not provide the necessary information to help her child in their time of need.

I remember that the issue of bilingual labeling came up during a meeting of the Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee ,  a federal advisory committee, in 2006. Both the Consumer Labeling Workgroup and the Workgroup on Worker Safety discussed the issue of bilingual labeling, although they couldn’t reach agreement on a recommendation for the Agency. Since then, we’ve seen an increasing number of companies that produce household use pesticides with bilingual labeling. I spoke with several company representatives who noted they had taken those steps both for health AND economic reasons. With the increase in Hispanic purchasing power, bilingual labels improved their bottom line.

In December of 2009, EPA received a petition from the Migrant Clinicians Network, Farmworker Justice and other farm worker interest groups asking the Agency to require that pesticide manufacturers produce their products with labels both in English and Spanish. The Agency is currently accepting public comments on this petition from interested stakeholders. We would like to hear from you. For more information on the announcement and how to submit public comments, visit our website.   What do you think?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as Acting Associate Director for Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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