Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Organic Farming: Where Have All the Hippies Gone?

Why am I not surprised to learn that, with the exception of not subjecting them to direct contact with poisons, so-called 'organic farms' treat their workers no better than the toxic factory farms? The reason, of course, is that organic farms have become "big bidness," and that is ALWAYS the kiss of death for even modestly humane labor practices.

The invaluable Grist provides the following information:

Green and red and unfair all over.

When you go to the supermarket and buy produce or packaged goods that carry the organic label, you can feel confident that the food was grown under rigorous environmental standards. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic seal, which debuted in 2002, is a guarantee that your fruits and vegetables were cultivated without petroleum-based fertilizers or (with rare exceptions) synthetic chemicals, and that they aren't genetically modified.

The organic label, however, goes only so far. While the seal covers a range of environmental practices, it says nothing about labor conditions. Although comprehensive studies of conditions on organic farms are hard to find, complaints like Ortiz's are not uncommon. For example, Willamette River Organics, one of Oregon's largest organic operations, has been hit with several lawsuits charging violations of minimum-wage laws.

A Human Rights Watch report on the exploitation of adolescent workers said the atmosphere at Arizona's organic Pavich Farms was "hostile, suspicious," with laborers apparently not permitted to speak to inspectors. Threemile Canyon, a large organic dairy and potato farm in Oregon, faces accusations of sexual discrimination in its hiring practices.

Workers get no consolation in the form of higher wages or better benefits, either. According to a report published last year by researchers at UC-Davis, a majority of 188 California organic farms surveyed do not pay a living wage or provide medical or retirement plans. In fact, most organic workers earn the same as those in conventional fields -- less (adjusted for inflation) than they were making in the 1970s, when the famous UFW boycotts occurred. "The exploitative conditions that farmworkers face in the U.S. are abysmal -- it's a human-rights crisis," said Richard Mandelbaum, policy analyst at the Farmworker Support Committee. "In terms of wages and labor rights, there's really no difference between organic and conventional (farms)."


larry said...

These folks are for real: http://www.cporganics.com/. They started out 30 years ago raising organic strawberries. I think the problem is in the distribution. Most retailers are so large that they command huge price concessions, and suppliers need to be equally large to be able to even bid. Even locally owned chains often have requirements of supplier's being able to stock all stores. I'm not doubting what you're saying, 'greedy hippies' doesn't surprise me at all.

panamint pete said...

People who complain about illegal immigration are doing it with their mouths full. They don't realize that the cheap salad they enjoyed for lunch was ( more than likely) harvested by Jose Pobrecito, under conditions which would find almost all americunz dead in the field of apoplexy or heart failure if forced to endure so much as a single day of this exhausting, back breaking labor for a coupla bux. We, as a nation should not be railing at the mojados, we should be thanking them. Maybe if more of us worked in the fields we wouldn't have such a chronic obesity problem. One more thought. Which is more illegal and immoral, coming into a country to work to support a family or taking a tax deduction one is not completely entitled to?

Anne Johnson said...

This is not exactly to topic, but I don't buy this organic bullshit at all. You can't fool a hillbilly. I've seen what organic produce looks like. It's got worm holes, it's smaller, spotted, imperfect in shape. You tell me that the picture-perfect apples and tomatoes in these "organic" groceries are really organic. Jose better wash his hands when he crawls off the field at the end of the day.

Anonymous said...

I think we should kill two birds with one stone: Eat the illegal Mexicans!