The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will revise a highly cited study that found farmers had the highest rate of suicide among professions after a calculation error came to light.
“The scientific authors are working diligently to reanalyze and publish corrected data. We apologize for the errors in the report,” Courtney Lenard, a spokeswoman for the CDC injury center, said in a statement. “Suicide is a serious public health problem that can have lasting harmful effects on individuals, families, and communities.”
The 2012 study claimed that farmers — classified officially by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as farmers, fisherman and forestry workers — had the highest suicide rate of any professional category at 84.5 per 100,000 workers. The next highest suicide rate in the study was among construction workers, with 53 suicides per 100,000.
The CDC admitted, following an article in New Food Economy in late June, that it had conflated the farm laborer category with “farmers” and “ranchers,” which are both management occupations according to federal guidelines.
Without the farmers in the agricultural worker category, the New Food Economy calculates the agriculture laborer suicide rate to be around the fourth highest suicide rate compared to other occupational groups.
As Mother Jones points out, conflating farm labor suicide with farmer suicides is misleading as agriculture workers typically have far lower salaries and tend to be Hispanic, while farmers, the bosses, are typically white and have higher salaries.
The Farm Bill that recently cleared the Senate includes direction to study suicide rates among both farmers and farm workers, but on the whole there have been few studies about the causes and extent of farmer and farm worker suicides.
The group Farm Aid, however, notes that it has seen a 30 percent increase in calls to its suicide hotline, and since the average farm worker salary is 50 percent lower in 2018 than 2013, the crisis is still at hand even though the CDC messed up its study.
“Rural families, particularly those in agricultural communities, are suffering no matter which way you slice the data,” Farm Aid Communications Director Jennifer Fahy said in a statement on June 28.
“The coverage of the suicide rate for farmers has served as a critical reminder to the public about the condition of our farms and our rural economies, and it’s crucial to uncover the full picture,” Fahy continued. “At Farm Aid, we spend our time on the phone with anxious farm families who cannot make ends meet, and who will not be able to improve their situation simply by working harder. Confusion and lack of resolution on policies like trade, immigration and healthcare accelerate the crisis.”
Senators have pointed to the suicide rate among farmers as reason to pass a Farm Bill with strong price protections, particularly in the ongoing trade disputes where countries will levy tariffs on agriculture products, for farmers. (RELATED: Trump Touts Huge Trade Victory For American Farmers In Deal With China)
“A lot of these folks are really concerned and it’s gotten to the point where in some areas there’s been suicide hotlines that have now been established for more than a year,” South Dakota Republican Sen. Mike Rounds said. “They want the president to succeed, they want him to be strong but they want to know what his end game is.”
“This farm bill means everything — more especially crop insurance,” Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chairman Pat Roberts said, according to NPR. “There are too many questions unanswered right now. That’s why we need to bring certainty and predictability so at least farmers can say, ‘Well at least I know I have that.'”
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