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Sugar Companies Are Being Sued Over This Frightening Practice No One Knows About

Huge companies are often caught taking part in things that they shouldn’t be doing, whether it’s to save money, save time and energy, or help them get more bang for their buck… or usually a mix of all of these things. Sometimes they get penalized for this type of thing, other times people look the other way. Whatever the case, it’s always pretty scary to think about what these giant corporations are doing in secret that very few people even realize is happening. It makes you wonder what else is going on out there that you’ve never been aware of.

Something exactly like this is happening with sugar companies in Florida right now, and it’s kind of crazy. But this time, someone is doing something about it.

According to The New Food Economy, sugar companies in Florida are being sued over a frightening practice that no one knows about: they’re burning sugar cane fields like crazy.

This isn’t just a harmless practice that isn’t affecting anyone. Burning the fields goes on for months, and nearby residents say they are experiencing health issues because of it — they’re the ones who filed a lawsuit against three of the biggest sugar companies in the country (U.S. Sugar, Florida Crystals, and Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida).

Sugar cane is a tall grass that looks similar to bamboo and is the most important source of the refined sugar that we eat in the U.S. It grows best in tropical states, especially Florida, which produces up to 17 million tons of sugar cane harvest every year, most of which is grown along the shores of Lake Okeechobee.

So why are they burning their own sugar cane?

They do this during the growing season, which runs from October to April, in order to get rid of every other kind of plant and vegetation aside from sugar cane. Not only does this make more room for sugar cane, but it also evaporates the water in the stalks, and that creates even more sugar.

The sugar companies say that they don’t only do this to produce more product. They say it’s essentially the only way to get things done.

But the residents who live near the fields are done dealing with it. Two residents near Lake Okeechobee filed a federal class-action lawsuit to seek damages for unwanted effects from the burning.

The residents, Clover Coffie and Jennie Thompson, say that the burning of sugar cane leads to thick black smoke in the air that causes “black snow” to fall all over everything. That “black snow” is also ingested by the people in the area, and they claim that the children develop higher rates of asthma and pregnant mothers are more likely to lose their baby. That’s terrifying!

And, unfortunately, it’s nothing new. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel says it’s a practice that’s been happening for decades.

In fact, former state Senator Joe Abruzzo, who is now the director of government relations at the Berman Law Group, told the Sun-Sentinel that there have been more than 100,000 cane field burns in Palm Beach County since 2004. And for every 100,000 residents, there are 700 hospitalizations for asthma in the area.

A spokesperson for the United States Sugar Corporation did issue a statement denying responsibility.

It said, “Our farming practices are safe, environmentally sound, highly regulated and closely monitored. Decades of independent air quality monitoring and data show that our communities, along with our counties of Palm Beach, Hendry and Glades, have some of the best air quality in the entire state, better than the state average, year after year.”

But there’s evidence that makes it seem like this isn’t true.

As The New Food Economy points out, this has been a controversial practice for a while. Researchers have found that sugar cane field workers tend to suffer kidney damage, and people who inhale the smoke have respiratory issues.

Another important fact?

Abruzzo says this is affecting lower-income families more than anyone else. He says the sugar companies only burn the fields when the wind blows west, which pushes the “black smoke” into poor communities of black families and foreign labor workers.

Lead attorney Zach West told the Sun-Sentinel, “They would be monitoring the health of the residents there who have been exposed to pollutants from sugar cane burning in order to identify and begin to treat any health conditions that are created in that population as a result of the sugar cane burning.”

It’s not just health issues residents are concerned about, it’s their property damage.

West said, “We’re also seeking full reimbursement for the depression of property values in that area related to the sugar cane burning. The costs of such a program are going to be enormous.”

Abruzzo said that when they interviewed residents, they got a lot of responses: “People were coming up to us in droves [while we filmed, saying], ‘My children are sick, my children are sick.'” That’s terrifying.

Hopefully this lawsuit will help to make things safer… but who knows how long that will take?