Thursday, July 30, 2020

PRESS RELEASE: Commissioner Fried: Stop Sacrificing Black Lives to Appease Big Sugar

July 30, 2020
Contacts: Patrick Ferguson,, 954-288-4234
Steve Messam,, 989-400-4225


“Stop Sacrificing Black Lives to Appease Big Sugar”

BELLE GLADE—Sierra Club and the Stop The Burn Campaign leadership, a group of local
activists fighting to protect their communities from the scourge of pre-harvest sugar field burning in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area, sent yet another unanswered letter to Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried in an attempt to get her attention to the life and death situation plaguing the Glades due to unrestrained pre-harvest sugar field burning by the politically powerful sugar industry.

The new letter, dated June 22, 2020, drew Commissioner Fried’s attention to the CDC Guidelines released on June 16, 2020, recommending bans on open agricultural burning to protect vulnerable residents from pollution exposure during the Pandemic. The CDC acknowledges the health impacts posed by open agricultural fires and recommends a burn ban to reduce smoke exposure for people with COVID19. The regions most impacted by pre-harvest sugar field burning, namely Western Palm Beach, Hendry, and Glades counties, and Indiantown in Western Martin County, have as of July 29 a total of 4,384 cases of Covid-19. Western Palm Beach County, the most heavily impacted by pre-harvest sugar field burning, currently has 1,571 cases with no sign that the situation is improving. The yearly harvest season officially begins on October 1, when a 27-30 mile no-burn buffer zone would help protect impacted communities from the health impacts exacerbated by the Covid-19 threat.

Screenshot of Glades area zip codes from Florida's COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard

“It is now common knowledge that Black and Brown communities throughout the country are being impacted by COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates. One of many contributing factors is that our communities are exposed to toxic air pollution on account of racist regulatory policies that prioritize protecting more affluent and whiter communities. Sugar field burning in the Glades region is a case in point,” stated South Bay resident Kina Phillips.

“Commissioner Fried has criticized Governor DeSantis for ignoring CDC guidelines stating that ‘the public health of Floridians and our Florida Forest Service personnel is of utmost importance during the Covid-19 pandemic,’ shared her concerns for listening to Black voices, and stated she is supportive of green harvesting -- the no-burn alternative for sugar cane harvesting practiced around the world and elsewhere in the U.S -- but as of yet she has refused to protect her South Florida constituents from this outdated, toxic practice” stated Patrick Ferguson, Sierra Club Organizer. 

This is only the most recent of a series of messages sent to Commissioner Fried going back to November 2019 urging her to use her authority to institute a protective 27-30-mile radius no-burn buffer zone around impacted communities. Former Mayor of South Bay Shanique Scott said:  “COVID-19 is the perfect reason to begin the phase-out of pre-harvest burning, but make no mistake, a temporary ban is not enough.  Our families deserve protection from the scourge of pre-harvest burning every year.”

A long-running request for a meeting between local Glades residents and Commissioner Fried, in-person before the pandemic and virtual since has also been ignored. “This week, we were notified by the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (FDACS) personnel of an impending announcement of new changes to the sugarcane burning regulations. Unless they announce the first phase -- a 27-30 mile no-burn buffer zone around impacted communities -- of a full stop to pre-harvest sugar field burning, it will not be enough” stated Belle Glade resident, Pastor Steve Messam.