From Examiner.com, Denver Examiner, “Farmworker Protests at Quiznos Headquarters” by Kimberly Lord Stewart, Denver Organic Food Examiner, 29 Mar 2011.
Did you eat today? If so, you can thank a farmworker. This is National Farmworker Awareness Week (March 27- April 2). For every tomato and head of lettuce you put in your shopping cart this spring, there is a farm worker in California, Texas, Washington, Florida, Oregon and North Carolina who handpicked your food for you. And if, the food wasn’t grown organically, there is a good chance a farmworker and a child was exposed to harmful pesticides. This week above all, is a good time to take notice of where and how your food is grown.
First, consider that pesticide exposure is the leading cause of illness among farmworkers, studies show that the pesticides are not only on ad on their bodies, but on it’s in their cars, in their homes and even on their children’s toys. “While consumers worry about the chemical residue left over from spraying, farm workers are practically marinating in it,” says a watchdog organization, Change.org.
A study released in February 2011, showed that farmworkers in the Salinas Valley tracked the health of children whose mother’s were exposed to farm pesticides. The early release of the study (Center for Children’s Environmental Health Research at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health) shows that prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides is linked to attention problems and is very visible by the time they reach age five, especially in boys. A longer-term study is tracking hundreds of older women and children and examining the how prenatal exposure affects the development of asthma, diabetes and obesity.
This week in Denver, you may see protests outside Quiznos headquarters on 17th St. Before you shrug and turn a blind eye, it is important to know what the protesters are seeking. Nine food chains including Subway, McDonald’s and Burger King and more than 90% of the Florida tomato industry have adopted fair food principles from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization of Haitian, Latino and Mayan farmworkers in Florida.
The CIW Fair Food principles include a penny-per-pound piece rate wage increase (yes, you read that correctly, one penny), a cooperative complaint resolution system, a health and safety program and a worker-to-worker education process. In Oct., the CIW signed an agreement with two of Forida’s largest tomato packing companies and growers, Pacific Tomato Growers and Six L’s.
Denver-based Quiznos has yet to agree to the CIW Fair Food Principles. Last year, at this same time, company officials said they were reviewing the legal issues to ensure that the penny pound would be used accordingly for the farmworkers. In January 2010, the company published a Supplier Code of Conduct, but to date, Quiznos has not signed the CIW agreement, hence the protests.
If you wish to participate, a rally is scheduled for Thursday, organized by the Denver Fair Food, a partner organization to CIW. Here are the details:
Thursday, March 31, 2011 12:00 PM – 4:00 PM EDT
Host: Denver Fair Food, http://denverfairfood.blogspot.com
Quiznos Headquarters (Denver, CO)
1001 17th St. (17th & Curtis)
Denver, CO 80202
And while you may think that tomato or head of lettuce served at restaurants or sold in the grocery store was grown by responsible farming operations, with humane working conditions and a safe environment, here are a few cold hard facts to stop you in your tracks:
- Farmworkers are paid by the bucket, in some states as a low as .40c for tomatoes and sweet potatoes. At this rate, a farmworker has to pick two tons of produce to make $50. On average, farmwokers make an average of $11K a year, and only two percent use social security, and 15% use Medicaid.
- The Fair Labor Standards Act sets 12 as the minimum wage for farm work, not 16 as for other jobs. By the time a child is 12, he or she works between 16-18 hours a week in the field. Because of the transient nature of their lifestyle, it takes an average of 3 years for a child to complete one grade level.
- Farmworkers suffer from a high rate of injury to skin, eyes and lungs from toxic chemical exposure from pesticides (see the video). Children of migrant farmworkers have higher rates of pesticide exposure, malnutrition and dental disease than the general population. Yet, only 10% of employers provide health insurance to farmworkers.
- Since 1997, federal officials have produced seven Florida farm worker slavery convictions. The most recent case involved three people who promised work to 50 Haitians in Florida, but upon their arrival, they confiscated their passports and visas. The workers were denied food, sanitary living conditions, medical care and one woman reported being raped, according to the National Farm Worker Ministry.
Kimberly Lord Stewart is a Colorado-based food journalist and author. Since 1994, she worked as an editor for publications dedicated to the business of organic food. Her first book, Eating Between the Lines (St Martins Press, 2007), tells readers about organic and conventional food labeling. Stewart is the former editor of Dining Out, Natural Foods Merchandiser and Functional Ingredients. She has contributed to Denver Post, Natural Home and Garden, Delicious Living, WellWise.org, Lifescrpt.com and Eating Well, and is recipient of two Association of Food Journalist awards and the Jessie Neal Business Journalism award for coverage of genetically modified foods.