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Beware Of Food Slavery

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Beware Of Food Slavery

Organic food is becoming mainstream in America, and that’s a fact. According to USDA data, 28 percent of U.S. consumers buy organic food (fresh and processed) every week; more than 50 percent of what they buy comes from big retailers and supermarket chains like Walmart, Costco, and other behemoths.

Buying and consuming organic food makes us feel good. We’ve been told it’s good for our health and good for the health of the planet. More and more of us are even taking the extra step to ensure that we procure as much of our organic food as possible from local producers, whom we meet at our weekly farmers’ market or whose delivery truck comes to our door with our CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture) box of goodies.

Most of us also have a huge blind spot regarding the origin of the food we eat, however: the people in the fields who plant, grow and harvest it. Who are they? How much are they getting paid? What working conditions do they experience day in day out?

There are 1.4 million farm workers in the United-States, according to the most common estimates. A third of them work on Californian farms. The rest can be found mostly in Florida, Washington State, Texas, Oregon and North Carolina. Two out of three work on large farms.

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Laetitia Mailhes

Laetitia Mailhes is a French-born journalist. After many years as the technology and innovation correspondent of the French "Financial Times" in San Francisco, she decided to focus on what truly matters to her: sustainable food and farming. Find more articles and videos on her blog, The Green Plate Blog.

82 comments

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5:32PM PDT on Mar 20, 2011

That's why I'm growing most of my own food!

1:04PM PST on Mar 10, 2011

Very informative article. Thank you very much for sharing. Would anybody happen to have a list of companies that are considered both fair trade and sustainable?

3:10PM PST on Feb 17, 2011

Wow, this is News to me! Thanks for the info!

12:58AM PST on Feb 14, 2011

A local news station just reported that there is a place in Africa that uses child slavery to extract certain materials to make certain parts for cell phones and certain types of computers. And it's supposed to be dangerous grounds there.

12:06AM PST on Feb 11, 2011

Good article. Thanks.

7:55AM PST on Feb 10, 2011

Thank you for writing this article and addressing an issue that so many consumers are not even aware of!

7:46PM PST on Feb 9, 2011

Beautifully said, Laetitia! I'm not sure that your last scenario is feasible across the US - how would the independent farmers supply the millions in the big cities? - but yes, if we want to curb illegal immigration (and the slavery that goes with it), we're going to have to be prepared to spend a lot more of our monthly income on food. For the wealthy, that may mean smaller outgo on high-tech goodies; for the poor, it will mean even tougher choices between food, medicine, and heat. I've got no sympathy here for anyone with money to spend on a home theater, but we'll have to do something about the destitute if we succeed in blocking illegal immigration. And to be sure, if we were to expel the illegals tomorrow, we would have famine in the cities - starting the following week, at the latest, I expect.

3:13PM PST on Feb 9, 2011

2/2
...The government, obviously, does not believe so. Hence the absence of political will to tackle for real the huge elephant in the room: illegal immigration. Immigrants desperate for cash, who don’t speak English, and who obviously want to stay under the radar are perfect candidates to fill the ranks of the exploited workers who keep the prices of our food low (it is as true in America as it is in Spain: women lured there from Romania are not technically illegal since they’re EU citizens but all the other factors apply—in the end, they’re a vulnerable, exploited labor force).
Kicking out illegal immigrants would send agriculture through a tailspin. America’s deserted fields would fail to feed us (since we can’t live off GM corn and soybeans). Unless, of course, the country plunges through a down-spiral of Great Depression magnitude and hunger pushes us to toil the earth for survival. On the other hand, legalizing them and granting them (and every other farm-worker) legal protection would potentially lead to a worrisome outcome: the sharp increase of food prices.
I love this last scenario: organic, local farmers who treat their workers well and sell directly to their community, bypassing marketing and middle-men costs, would play on a level playing-field with the big supermarkets. We would discover that shopping at Costco and Walmart is not that much of a good deal after all.

3:13PM PST on Feb 9, 2011

Glad the article is stimulating a spirited debate. I can’t resist jumping in, however, to clarify a few points. The article provides many links designed to prevent some of the misunderstandings in this conversation. Not everyone is taking advantage of them, obviously, so here we go:
1/ “slavery” is not an excessive term in this context: as several court cases have already demonstrated, thousands of people have been lured illegally across the border with the promise of a good job, only to find themselves sequestrated and passport-less, driven to debt by their “living expenses” (charged to them by their captors), and made to live in conditions that most of us would be ashamed to put our dogs through (similar incidents have occurred in the farming and the meat-packing industries).
2/ hard-work per se is NOT at fault. The issue lies with the ABSENCE of any sort of control and regulation. This leaves the space wide open for unscrupulous and/or tight-for-cash farmers (and they are legion, sadly) to exploit people, adults and children alike: less than minimum wage, and dangerous working conditions (the use of toxic products is a HUGE issue) are routine.
3/ the scandalous social injustice here lies in the exclusion of farm-workers from labor protection law.
Are we ready, as consumers, to pay the price for this state of affair to change? 1/2

12:17PM PST on Feb 9, 2011

Si actuellement l'agriculture est en état de panique ,que se
passerait-il en 2050 avec plus de 9 milliads d'humains,sans compter les créatures sauvages.
Des chercheurs de l'intitut national de santé publique du québec[INSPQ] ont trouvé des risidus de pesticides dans plus de 20% des aliments importé et local consommé au québec en particulier[les choux,brocolis,choux-fleurs,laitus,celleris, bleuets,fraises,pommes,oranges,pamplemosses,raisins....]
et 1% passe les normes sécuritaire,et leurs éffets
sur la santé a long terme est inconnu pour le moment./

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