May 27, 2009
LOS ANGELES (RPRN) 5/27/2009-Choosing to eat green has some people seeing red! What does buying your organic produce from some Farmer’s Markets mean for their workers? And what can you do as an educated consumer to ensure that the green cuisine you order from your local organic restaurant is, in fact, ethical? The fact of the matter is that while we think we’re supporting an equitable industry when we buy organic, just one among the nearly 1800 organic farms in the state of California is unionized. Only the employees at Swanton Berry Farm1, a relatively tiny operation selling strawberries to farm stands, regional markets and Whole Foods, have been unionized since 1998.
‘‘Because (sustainable) farms are organic, people assume that (they are) enlightened.’’2
Thanks to the persistent efforts of grassroots organizations such as United Farm Workers, founded by Cesar E. Chavez3, Swanton employees can benefit from medical insurance as well as pension plans – something rarely seen in this industry. Even today, most farm workers earn less than minimum wage and obtain no overtime pay. American consumers’ growing preference for sustainable agriculture at such an alarming rate has afforded organic farms a hard rationale: in order to keep prices competitive, their employees must suffer.
Another equitable concern is in the organic dairy industry, where a few giant milk producer-handlers are taking advantage of outdated profit-sharing legislation.4 The law states that any organic dairy farm bottling its own milk is eligible for an exemption. This loophole has permitted corporations owning tens of thousands of cows such as Aurora Organic Dairy, primary supplier to Walmart and Costco, to compete in the same market as small family-operated businesses owning under two hundred, without having to forfeit surplus revenue. The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association recently submitted a petition to the government to obliterate this exemption. This means that any farmer producing in excess of 450,000 pounds of milk per month would be subject to a cap.
Certain mega-brands are also fighting allegations that their milk isn’t really organic. By definition, milk is produced organically if the cows feed on grass that is pesticide-free. Grain-fed cattle often develop diseases because chicken and beef by-products as well as hormones are added to the feed for maximum growth. When they get sick because of the feed, antibiotics are added resulting in resistant strains of E-coli bacteria. ‘‘70% of the antibiotics used in the United States are used in livestock.’’5
But what can you do at the consumer level to ensure what you’re eating is safe and equitable? According to The Soil Association, whole restaurants can be certified, which would mean absolutely everything that the restaurant produces is organic. If the menu features only a couple of dishes served with organic meat, you can check that it is actually organic by asking to see the restaurant’s certificate, or records of sale proving that the meat was purchased from an organic farm. Trading standards councils perform annual inspections and pay special attention to restaurants claiming to be organically certified. Some certified organic spots in L.A.: O!Burger, Leaf Cuisine, Snola, The Dressing Room and M Café de Chaya. For more info, log onto www.citysearch.com.
Andrea Frascione covers the business, eco-entrepreneur and lifestyle beat for RushPRnews. You may write her for story ideas and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
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