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Why Are People Dying to Bring You Dinner? The Shocking Facts About Our Food System March 31, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Labor.
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            We hear of the sweatshops behind our computers, sneakers and other attire–yet the exploitation of farmworkers has become normalized.

March 30, 2012  |
Cesar Chavez, the champion of farmworkers’ rights who gets his annual day of state recognition this Saturday, must be rolling in his grave. It’s been 37 years since Governor Jerry Brown, in an earlier life, signed the landmark agricultural labor relations act–and soon California legislators will debate whether to enforce rules to provide water and shade to the 400,000 farmworkers who harvest our food.

According to Assemblymember Betsy Butler, D-Los Angeles, author of the Farmworker Safety Act of 2012, “At least 16 farm workers have died since the state issued emergency regulations related to heat illness in 2005. Since all of the deaths were preventable, it’s clear that the regulations and their enforcement are ineffective.”

Let’s replay that: every year farmworkers are dying from thirst and heat exposure due to inadequate water and shade.

In announcing AB 2346, Butler added: “It is absolutely abhorrent to think that in this day and age, farm workers are not regularly provided with shade and water. These two commodities are essentially free and we all know that no grower would let their crops go without water.”

To rally support, the United Farm Workers union and other advocates will gather in Sacramento this weekend and laborers will speak of toiling thirsty and overheated in the fields.

You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but history shows a long, sorry resistance to treating farmworkers with even the most basic dignities. In July 2010, Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill to give farmworkers overtime pay after eight hours a day or 40 hours a week (New York passed such a bill in 2009). This February, after lobbying from Kraft Foods, the American Meat Institute and others, the USDA withdrew a proposed rule requiring companies doing business with the agency to prove that their subcontractors–including growers–are complying with labor laws.

Can you imagine any other profession where such injustices would be allowed? We hear of the sweatshops behind our computers, sneakers and other attire–yet the exploitation of farmworkers has become normalized. Somehow food, so intrinsic to our daily lives, escapes the kind of justice we should take for granted in 2012.

Our ongoing “harvest of shame” is about more than water and shade. It is about toxic pesticide exposures that send farmworkers to the hospital–up to 20,000 are poisoned annually according to the Centers for Disease Control. It is about rock-bottom wages for back-breaking work: more than 60 percent of farmworkers live south of the poverty line. “Hired farmworkers continue to be one of the most economically disadvantaged groups in the United States,” the USDA says, noting, “they are sometimes forced to sleep in their vehicles, in tents, or completely outdoors.”

Farmworkers receive just half the average hourly wage of other private-sector workers, yet their pay represents up to 40 percent of food production costs for “crops such as fruits, vegetables, and nursery products,” according to the USDA.

The dirty big secret of our food is that highly exploited labor is a major cost (particularly in organic farming), and even well-meaning growers fight to keep their costs down. If food prices get too high, consumers howl for price relief. Something has to give.

This Cesar Chavez Day, let’s renew a national conversation about justice and fairness for America’s roughly one million farmworkers. Here’s a start: in the 2012 Farm Bill coming before Congress this summer, let’s create an income and health support fund for farmworkers–and a Farmworkers’ Bill of Rights. Currently, taxpayers subsidize agribusiness to the tune of roughly $15 billion a year–most of it benefiting large-scale production of additives for fast food and fuels that deplete our health and the environment. Let’s redirect some of that money to prevent severe farmworker poverty, chronic disease and premature deaths.

Why spend taxpayer dollars to make sure farmworkers get basic justice? We’re already paying the bill every day for uninsured farm laborers who end up in emergency rooms due to acute and chronic pesticide exposures or heat exhaustion; and we’re already paying the bill for impoverished underpaid farmworkers who need welfare and other supports just to survive. We can pay now to prevent farmworker suffering, or pay later for the inevitable health and economic emergencies.

Farmworkers are often undocumented and vulnerable–but not powerless. They’ve won some impressive battles recently, with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers extracting better pay from Taco Bell and Trader Joe’s. Like Cesar Chavez’ great boycotts of the early 1970s, these campaigns organized farmworkers and consumers in common cause.

It’s time for consumers and policymakers to demand an end to the sweatshops hiding behind our dinner plates. It’s not just one company or a few bad apple growers–it’s our whole economy and policy of “cheap food,” which has cost many farmworkers an arm and a leg.

Christopher D. Cook is the author of “Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis” (New Press). He has also written for Harper’s, the Economist, the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor. His Web site is www.christopherdcook.com.

Cesar Chavez: A True American Hero March 31, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Labor.
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Cesar Chavez. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Saturday, 31 March 2012 09:22

Dick Meister, Dick Meister’s Blog | Op-Ed

I hope we can all pause and reflect on the extraordinary life of a true American hero today (March 31). It’s Cesar Chavez Day, proclaimed by President Obama and observed throughout the country on the 85th birth date of the late founder of the United Farm Workers union. It’s an official state holiday in California, Texas and Colorado.

As President Obama noted, Chavez was a leader in launching “one of our nation’s most inspiring movements.” He taught us, Obama added, “that social justice takes action, selflessness and commitment. As we face the challenges of the day, let us do so with the hope and determination of Cesar Chavez.”

Like another American hero, Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez inspired and energized millions of people worldwide to seek and win basic human rights that had long been denied them, and inspired millions of others to join the struggle.

Certainly there are few people in any field more deserving of special attention, certainly no one I’ve met in more than a half-century of labor reporting.

I first met Cesar Chavez when I was covering labor for the San Francisco Chronicle. It was on a hot summer night in 1965 in the little San Joaquin Valley town of Delano, California. Chavez, shining black hair trailing across his forehead, wearing a green plaid shirt that had become almost a uniform, sat behind a makeshift desk topped with bright red Formica.

“Si se puede,” he said repeatedly to me, a highly skeptical reporter, as we talked deep into the early morning hours there in the cluttered shack that served as headquarters for him and the others who were trying to create an effective farm workers union.

“Si se puede! – it can be done!”

But I would not be swayed. Too many others, over too many years, had tried and failed to win for farm workers the union rights they absolutely had to have if they were to escape the severe economic and social deprivation inflicted on them by their grower employers.

The Industrial Workers of the World who stormed across western fields early in the 20th century, the Communists who followed, the socialists, the AFL and CIO organizers – all their efforts had collapsed under the relentless pressure of growers and their powerful political allies.

I was certain this effort would be no different. I was wrong. I had not accounted for the tactical brilliance, creativity, courage and just plain stubbornness of Cesar Chavez, a sad-eyed, disarmingly soft-spoken man who talked of militancy in calm, measured tones, a gentle and incredibly patient man who hid great strategic talent behind shy smiles and an attitude of utter candor.

Chavez grasped the essential fact that farm workers had to organize themselves. Outside organizers, however well intentioned, could not do it. Chavez, a farm worker himself, carefully put together a grass-roots organization that enabled the workers to form their own union, which then sought out – and won – widespread support from influential outsiders.

The key weapon of the organization, newly proclaimed the United Farm Workers, or UFW, was the boycott. It was so effective between 1968 and 1975 that 12 percent of the country’s adult population – that’s 17 million people – quit buying table grapes.

The UFW’s grape boycott and others against wineries and lettuce growers won the first farm union contracts in history in 1970. That led to enactment five years later of the California law – also a first – that requires growers to bargain collectively with workers who vote for unionization. And that led to substantial improvements in the pay, benefits, working conditions and general status of the state’s farm workers. Similar laws, with similar results, have now been enacted elsewhere.

The struggle that finally led to victory was extremely difficult for the impoverished workers, and Chavez risked his health – if not his life – to provide them extreme examples of the sacrifices necessary for victory. Most notably, he engaged in lengthy, highly publicized fasts that helped rally the public to the farm workers’ cause and that may very well have contributed to his untimely death in 1993 at age 66.

Fasts, boycotts. It’s no coincidence that those were the principal tools of Mohandas Gandhi, for Chavez drew much of his inspiration from the Hindu leader. Like Gandhi and another of his models, Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez fervently believed in the tactics of non-violence. Like them, he showed the world how profoundly effective they can be in seeking justice from even the most powerful opponents.

“We have our bodies and spirits and the justice of our cause as our weapons,” Chavez explained.

His iconic position has been questioned recently by outsiders claiming Chavez acted as a dictator in his last years as head of the UFW. But what the UFW accomplished under his leadership, and how the union accomplished it, will never be forgotten – not by the millions of social activists who have been inspired and energized by the farm workers’ struggle, nor by the workers themselves.

Chavez deservedly remains, and undoubtedly will always remain, an American icon who led the way to winning important legal rights for farm workers. But more than union contracts, and more than laws, farm workers now have what Cesar Chavez insisted was needed above all else. That, as he told me so many years ago, “is to have the workers truly believe and understand and know that they are free, that they are free men and women, that they are free to stand up and fight for their rights.”

Freedom. No leader has ever left a greater legacy. But the struggle continues. Despite the UFW victories, farm workers are in great need of fully exercising the rights won under Chavez’ leadership. They need to reverse what has been a decline in the UFW’s fortunes in recent years, caused in part by lax enforcement of the laws that granted farm workers union rights.

Many farm workers are still mired in poverty, their pay and working and living conditions a national disgrace. They average less than $10,000 a year and have few – if any – fringe benefits. They suffer seasonal unemployment.

Job security is rare, as many of the workers are desperately poor immigrants from Mexico or Central America who must take whatever is offered or be replaced by other desperately poor workers from the endless stream of immigrants. Child labor is rampant.

Most hiring and firing is done at the whim of employers, many of them wealthy corporate growers or labor contractors who unilaterally set pay and working conditions and otherwise act arbitrarily.

Workers are often exposed to dangerous pesticides and other serious health and safety hazards that make farm work one of the country’s most dangerous occupations. They often even lack such on-the-job amenities as fresh drinking water and field toilets, and almost invariably are forced to live in overcrowded, seriously substandard housing.

Cesar Chavez Day should remind us of the continuing need to take forceful legal steps and other action in behalf of farm workers – to help them overcome their wretched conditions and finally provide a decent life for all those who do the hard, dirty and dangerous work that puts fruit and vegetables on our tables.

We need, in short, to carry on what Cesar Chavez began. We could pay no greater homage to his memory.

Copyright © 2012 Dick Meister

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

Dow and Monsanto Join Forces to Poison America’s Heartland February 24, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Environment, Health.
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Thursday 23 February 2012
by: Richard Schiffman, Truthout         | News Analysis

(Photo: tpmartins)

In a match that some would say was made in hell, the nation’s two leading producers of agrochemicals have joined forces in a partnership to reintroduce the use of the herbicide 2,4-D, one half of the infamous defoliant Agent Orange, which was used by American forces to clear jungle during the Vietnam War. These two biotech giants have developed a weed management program that, if successful, would go a long way toward a predicted doubling of harmful herbicide use in America’s corn belt during the next decade.

The problem for corn farmers is that “superweeds” have been developing resistance to America’s best-selling herbicide Roundup, which is being sprayed on millions of acres in the Midwest and elsewhere. Dow Agrosciences has developed a strain of corn that it says will solve the problem. The new genetically modified variety can tolerate 2,4-D, which will kill off the Roundup-resistant weeds, but leave the corn standing. Farmers who opt into this system will be required to double-dose their fields with a deadly cocktail of Roundup plus 2,4-D, both of which are manufactured by Monsanto.

But this plan has alarmed environmentalists and also many farmers, who are reluctant to reintroduce a chemical whose toxicity has been well established. The use of 2,4-D is banned in several European countries and provinces of Canada. The substance is a suspected carcinogen, which has been shown to double the incidence of birth defects in the children of pesticide applicators in a study conducted by University of Minnesota pathologist Vincent Garry.

Researchers say that the effect of 2,4-D on human health is still not fully understood. But it may be a risk factor for conditions like Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and certain leukemias, which were often found in Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that the chemical could have “endocrine disruption potential” and interfere with the human hormonal system. It may prove toxic to honeybees, birds and fish, according to research conducted by the US Forest Service and others. In 2004, a coalition of groups spearheaded by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network, wrote a letter to the EPA taking it to task for underestimating the health and environmental impacts of 2,4-D.

Large-scale industrial farming has grown dependent on ever-increasing applications of agrochemicals. Some have compared this to a drug addict who requires larger and larger fixes to stay high. Herbicide use has increased steadily over time as weeds develop resistance and need to be doused with more and deadlier chemicals to kill them. This, in turn. requires more aggressive genetic engineering of crops that can withstand the escalating chemical assault.

Many agricultural scientists warn that this growing addiction to agrochemicals is unsustainable in the long run. The fertility of the soil decreases as earthworms and vital microorganisms are killed off by pesticides and herbicides. They also pollute the groundwater and compromise the health of farm animals that are fed with the chemical-infused grain.

These impacts are poised to grow. US Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures reveal that herbicide use rose by 383 million pounds from 1996 to 2008. Significantly, nearly half of this increase (46 percent) took place between 2007 and 2008 as a result of the hawking of new herbicide-resistant crops like the new corn hybrid developed by Dow.

Nobody knows what effect introducing this hybrid would have on the health of American consumers. Corn laced with high levels of 2,4-D could taint everything from breakfast cereals to the beef of cattle, which concentrate the toxin in their flesh. Given that corn and high-fructose corn syrup are key elements in so many processed foods, some public health experts warn that all Americans will soon be guinea pigs in an ill-conceived mass experiment with one of the staples of our food supply. America’s agriculture department, the USDA is considering deregulating Monsanto’s new genetically modified corn variety (the one which will be used in conjunction with the 2,4-D) and is accepting final public comments on the matter until the 27th of this month.

Until recently, herbicide-resistant crops were popular with farmers who benefited from higher yields and nearly effortless management of weeds. But now that the weed problem is coming back with a vengeance, some are reconsidering the wisdom of this chemical-intensive mode of farming. Dow biotech corn costs nearly three times more than conventional seed. And the projected doubling of pesticide use in the years ahead will be expensive, as well as destructive to farmland and ecosystems.

There are viable alternatives to chemical-intensive farming, time-tested methods like crop rotation, use of cover crops, and other practices which allow farmers to compete naturally with weeds. The time has come for farmers to revive the knowledge of their ancestors in this regard.

Some agricultural scientists advocate developing a system of integrated weed management to replace the unsustainable use of chemicals. But the big agrochemical companies have no interest in supporting the sustainable agriculture that would put them out of business. So long as there are billions of dollars to be made in selling herbicide and herbicide-resistant genetically modified seed, there won’t be much research money available to explore the natural alternatives to the destruction of our nation’s heartland.

The Tomatoes of Wrath September 26, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Human Rights, Immigration, Labor.
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Published on Monday, September 26, 2011 by TruthDig.com

  by  Chris Hedges

It is 6 a.m. in the parking lot outside the La Fiesta supermarket in Immokalee, Fla. Rodrigo Ortiz, a 26-year-old farmworker, waits forlornly in the half light for work in the tomato fields. White-painted school buses with logos such as “P. Cardenas Harvesting” are slowly filling with fieldworkers. Knots of men and a few women, speaking softly in Spanish and Creole, are clustered on the asphalt or seated at a few picnic tables waiting for crew leaders to herd them onto the buses, some of which will travel two hours to fields. Roosters are crowing as the first light of dawn rises over the cacophony. Men shovel ice into 10-gallon plastic containers from an ice maker next to the supermarket, which opens at 3:30 a.m. to sell tacos and other food to the workers. The containers—which they lug to pickup trucks—provide water for the pickers in the sweltering, humid fields where temperatures soar to 90 degrees and above.

(Illustration by Mr. Fish)

Ortiz, a short man in a tattered baseball cap and soiled black pants that are too long and spill over the tops of his worn canvas sneakers, is not fortunate this day. By 7 a.m. the last buses leave without him. He heads back to the overcrowded trailer he shares with several other men. There are always workers left behind at these predawn pickup sites where hundreds congregate in the hopes of getting work. Nearly 90 percent of the workers are young, single immigrant men, and at least half lack proper documents or authorization to work in the United States.

Harvesting tomatoes is an endeavor that comes with erratic and unpredictable hours, weeks with overtime and weeks with little to do and no guarantees about wages. Once it starts to rain, workers are packed back onto the buses and sent home, their workday abruptly at an end. Ortiz and the other laborers congregate at the pickup points every morning never sure if there will be work. And when they do find daywork they are paid only for what they pick.

“I only had three days of work this week,” Ortiz says mournfully. “I don’t know how I will pay my rent.”

Ortiz, who along with many others among these migrant workers sends about $100 home to Mexico every month to support elderly parents, works under conditions in these fields that replicates medieval serfdom and at times descends into outright slavery. He lives far below the poverty line. He has no job security, no workers’ compensation, no disability insurance, no paid time off, no access to medical care, Social Security, Medicaid or food stamps and no protection from the abusive conditions in the fields. The agricultural industry has a death rate nearly six times higher than most other industries, and the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that of the 2 million farmworkers in the United States 300,000 suffer pesticide poisoning every year.

“We are standing on the threshold of achieving significant change in the agricultural industry,” Marc Rodrigues, with the Student/Farmworker Alliance, tells me later in the day at the CIW office in Immokalee. “But if the supermarkets do not participate and support it then it will not go any further. Their lack of participation threatens to undermine what the workers and their allies have accomplished. They represent a tremendous amount of tomato purchasing. They wield a lot of influence over conditions in the field. For those growers not enamored of the concept of workers attaining rights and being treated with dignity, they will know that there is always a market for their tomatoes with no questions asked, where nothing is governed by a code of conduct or transparency. If we succeed, this will help lift farmworkers, who do one of the most important, dangerous and undervalued jobs in our society, out of grinding poverty into one where they can have a slightly more decent and normal life and provide for their families.”

The next major mobilization in the campaign will take place at noon Oct. 21 outside Trader Joe’s corporate headquarters in Monrovia, Calif. This will follow a week of local actions to target supermarkets across the country. To thwart the campaign, the public relations departments of Trader Joe’s, Publix and other supermarkets are churning out lies and half truths, as well as engaging in unsettling acts of intimidation and surveillance. Publix sent out an employee posing as a documentary filmmaker to record the activities of the organizers.

“Publix has a cabal of labor relations, human relations and public relations employees who very frequently descend from corporate headquarters in Lakeland, Fla.—or one of their regional offices—and show up at our demonstrations,” says Rodrigues. “They watch us with or without cameras. They constantly attempt to deflect us: If we attempt to speak to consumers or store managers these people will intercept us and try to guide us away. These people in suits and ties come up to us and refer to us by our first names—as if they know us—in a sort of bizarre, naked attempt at intimidation.”

If you live in a community that has a Whole Foods, which is the only major supermarket chain to sign the agreement, shop there and send a letter to competing supermarkets telling them that you will not return as a customer until they too sign the CIW Fair Food Agreement. Details about planned protests around the country can be found on the CIW website.

Workers in the fields earn about 50 cents for picking a bucket containing 32 pounds of tomatoes. These workers make only $10,000 to $12,000 a year, much of which they send home. The $10,000-$12,000 range, because it includes the higher pay of supervisors, means the real wages of the pickers are usually less than $10,000 a year. Wages have remained stagnant since 1980. A worker must pick 2.25 tons of tomatoes to make minimum wage during one of the grueling 10-hour workdays. This is twice what they had to pick 30 years ago for the same amount of money. Most workers pick about 150 buckets a day. And these workers have been rendered powerless by law. In Florida, collective bargaining is illegal, one of the legacies of Jim Crow practices designed to keep blacks poor and disempowered. Today the ban on collective bargaining serves the same purpose in thwarting the organizing efforts of the some 30,000 Hispanic, Mayan and Haitian agricultural laborers who plant and harvest 30,000 acres of tomatoes.

The CIW, which organized a nationwide boycott in 2001 against Taco Bell, forced several major fast food chains including Yum Brands, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, Compass Group, Bon Appétit Management Co., Aramark and Sodexo to sign the agreement, which demands more humane labor standards from their Florida tomato suppliers and an increase of a penny per bucket. But if the major supermarkets too do not sign this agreement, growers who verbally, sexually and physically abuse workers will be able to continue selling tomatoes to the supermarkets. This could leave at least half of all the fields without protection, making uniform enforcement of the agreement throughout the fields difficult if not impossible.

“Supply chains are very opaque and secretive,” says Gerardo Reyes, a farmworker and CIW staff member. “This is one of the reasons a lot of these abuses continue. The corporations can always feign that they did not know the abuses were happening or that they had any responsibility for them as long as there is no transparency or accountability.”

One of the most celebrated modern cases of fieldworker slavery was uncovered in November 2007 after three workers escaped from a box truck in which they had been locked. They and 12 others had been held as slaves for two and a half years. They had to relieve themselves in a corner of the truck at night and pay five dollars if they wanted to bathe with a garden hose. They were routinely beaten. Some were chained to poles at times. During the days they worked on some of the largest farms in Florida. It was the seventh such documented case of slavery in a decade.

“As long as the supermarket industry refuses to sign this agreement it gives the growers an escape,” says Reyes. “We need to bring the pressure of more buyers who will sign the agreement to protect the workers. We have gotten all of the major corporations within the fast food industry and food providers to sign this agreement. Two of the three most important buyers within the industry are on board. But if these supermarkets continue to hold out they can put all the mechanisms we have set in place for control at risk. If Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’s and other supermarkets say the only criteria is buying from those growers who offer the lowest possible price then we will not be able to curb abuses. If the agreement is in place and there is another case of slavery then the growers will be put in a penalty box. If we do not have the ability to impose penalties then there will always be a way for abusive growers to sell. The agreement calls on these corporations to stop buying from growers, for example, that use slave labor. Without the agreement there is no check on these practices.”

“Supermarkets, such as Trader Joe’s, insist they are responsible and fair,” Reyes goes on. “They use their public relations to present themselves as a good corporation. They sell this idea of fairness, this disguise. They use this more sophisticated public relations campaign, one that presents them as a friend of workers, while at the same time locking workers out of the discussion and kicking us out of the room. They want business as usual. They do not want people to question how their profits are created. We have to fight not only them but this sophisticated public relations tactic. We are on the verge of a systemic change, but corporations like Trader Joe’s are using all their power to push us back.”

Members and supporters of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers will march from a Trader Joe’s store at 604 W. Huntington Dr. in Monrovia, Calif., to the market chain’s headquarter a mile away, starting at noon Oct. 21. The farmworkers organization is demanding that Trader Joe’s support the human rights of the men and women who harvest tomatoes sold in its stores. For more information, click here, send an email to damara@justharvestusa.org or telephone (510) 725-8752 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (510) 725-8752     end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

© 2011 TruthDig.com

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Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

25 Comments so far

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Posted by corvo
Sep 26 2011 – 10:50am

Well, expecting that Aldi (a hyperconservative German family that owns Trader Joe’s) will budge is kind of unrealistic, noble as it may be.  Even more extremely than Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s sells a feel-good lifestyle for liberals who’d rather not think too long or too hard about where their money is going.

Of course the laborers deserve to be treated fairly.  But really, who in his/her right mind and with three functioning taste buds buys tomatoes from a supermarket to begin with?

Posted by Ollupsutit
Sep 26 2011 – 10:51am

Sorry Chris, this is all the price of supporting illegal immigration. Until these workers adopt the methods and restrictions of Caesar Chavez they will continue to be exploited. And there will continue to be cases of virtual slavery discovered.

How anyone can call themselves Progressive and support the exploitation of these workers is beyond understanding.

Posted by redballoon
Sep 26 2011 – 11:14am

Titus Pullo – do you eat tomatoes, ketchup, pizza, etc. Nothing we consume is free of evil.

Posted by Ollupsutit
Sep 26 2011 – 2:53pm

You have a point, however, buying the produce is not the same as actually supporting the business’s involved and helping them exploit these poor workers. And the thing that strikes me most is remembering what Chavez said about it’s not just the undocumented that suffer, it’s the American worker too. Our fields are not just serviced by the undocumented, no matter what the Right say’s.

But, you have a point, none the less.

Posted by Paranoid Pessimist
Sep 26 2011 – 4:30pm

Good point indeed.  If we tried to consume only products produced by people who were paid American standard-of-living wages, there would be nothing.  People can understand the situation and purchase responsibly as much as possible, but all that’s accomplishing is salving their personal consciences — like ecologically correct consuming (“It’s not my fault; I bought only green socially responsible stuff”).  It won’t help to have lived that way once the big crunchdown begins in earnest.

The business wing of the right wing says that they have to offsource jobs because the American workers are paid so much more than third world peasants.  They say that it’s because American workers are selfish (not because our way of life is barely affordable even with “living” wages) and that if we had real competitive community spirit, we’d give up all that minimum wage b.s. and enthusiastically join in on the race to the bottom, assured that because we’re God-blessed Americans we’d somehow come out on top.

Posted by SJRyan
Sep 26 2011 – 11:47am

Two wrongs don’t make a right. “Nearly 90 percent of the workers are young, single immigrant men, and at least half lack proper documents or authorization to work in the United States.” I’ll bet it’s considerably more than 50%. The workers don’t belong here. They are exploited by big and small Agra business. The tomato industry makes billions for its wealthy owners. We have to pay $2 a pound in the grocery store for tomatoes. Losers: American consumers & Illegals;   Winners: Wealthy Agra Business owners

Simple solution is to grow your own. I grew cherry tomatoes this years. It was fun and easy. I’m not a gardener. I think we should be given tax credits for planting fruit trees. Zucchini is easy to grow and produces so much that the excess could be given to food banks. If the masses started to grow food big time, prices would come down. Grocery stores would not be able to charge so much.

Supporting our illegal problem is not a solution. Illegals need to fight for their rights in their own countries. If we stopped illegal immigration and tomatoes rotted in the fields and the price of ketchup skyrocketed then we would start growing our own. Local small organic farms would spring up. The price of tomatoes would go down. We would not have an illegal problem and the only losers would be those getting rich charging $2 for tomatoes.

Posted by pjd412
Sep 26 2011 – 2:26pm

I don’t know what is worse, your suburban-bourgeois-liberal self-absorbed smugness or your complete lack of understanding understanding of basic economics.

The Mexican/central American workers worker’s alternative is either to come up here for work or watch themselves and their families starve.  Understand?  What would YOU do if you were in their situation?

Posted by Galenwainwright…
Sep 26 2011 – 2:31pm

Eat the rich?

Posted by SJRyan
Sep 26 2011 – 2:42pm

The Mexican/Central American worker’s should overthrow their masters or remain poor for a few more centuries. How about a Mexican/Central American Spring? The easy way is to head north. We have problems of our own.

Posted by Sonmi451
Sep 26 2011 – 2:56pm

Easy way?  Define easy.  And we?  Excuse me, but I think most of us have more solidarity with the poor Mexican/Central American workers who may “remain poor for a few more centuries” than with you.

Posted by raydelcamino
Sep 26 2011 – 3:03pm

Those Mexican/Central American workers have been governed by “masters” installed and protected by higher and mightier masters in New York (and the politicians they own in Washington DC) for more than a century. Any overthrows during that time would have resulted in a subsequent US-approved master replacing the previous one.

Posted by SJRyan
Sep 26 2011 – 4:26pm

“…most of us have more solidarity with the poor Mexican/Central American workers…”

I do not agree. I believe you’re claimed solidarity is a liberal myth. Jobs, jobs, jobs are on the minds of most Americans. Illegals flood the job market and suppress wages. Jobs Americans won’t do, they would do for more money. No more money is offered because ‘Manuel’ the laborer from south of our border will work for slave wages.

Tomatoes need to rot in fields year after year till wages and working conditions improve. It would be a form of strike that will never happen because ‘Manuel’ and his friends are waiting every morning at 6 am in parking lots across the south to work for slave wages. Gandhi marched to the sea and made salt. We could certainly grow a few tomatoes! (tomatoes – cook and add salt and you have ketchup; cook and add sugar you have tomato soup)

Illegal immigration needs to be dealt with. No more kicking the frijoles can down the road. I’m all for putting the no vacancy sign on the Statue of Liberty. We no longer have a western frontier to explore and settle. We need all the jobs we can get for our own children and our own ex-slaves. All liberals are not bleeding hearts.

Posted by Siouxrose
Sep 26 2011 – 3:04pm

SJRyan: You appear to be morphing into Thomas More here!

As for me, I will write that letter to Publix. There must be ten Publix supermarkets in Gainesville, and many cater to “upscale” community members. The university, added to two hospitals, seems to fuel a complex of well paid employees and the shelves at Publix all but glitter like gold. The extra penny or so is NOTHING to this operation or the vast majority who shop at Publix.

I will be writing a letter in support of this initiative.

Some in this forum are so adamant that they can only accept radical, immediate solutions. These are not likely to happen. By discarding what CAN be done, they show no respect for, nor tolerance of increments that just might make a difference in someone else’s life. Sure, I’d love to see Wall Street overthrown, the covert government coup disabled, the MIC put on virtual house arrest, the tax money collected directed at matters that actually improve human lives… but in the meanwhile, maybe small acts of decency can insure that a few more might not find themselves in slavery.

Posted by corvo
Sep 26 2011 – 4:20pm

Publix is a viciously conservative operation.  But then, most supermarket chains are.

Posted by Ollupsutit
Sep 26 2011 – 3:05pm

SJRyan

I would like to point out that it is hard to do as you say when they are harnessed to NAFTA, etc. no less than our own workers.

Can we afford to subsidize business in using the undocumented? No. Should they be allowed to come here illegally. Of course not. Now that those things are out of the way, how does anyone blame someone for trying to support their family? We cannot and must not blame these exploited workers for our faults. And the fault is ours.

One question. If you were a corn farmer and your government agreed to a trade agreement (NAFTA) that put you out of the business of farming and just across the border were business’s, a government and other’s for political reasons that enticed you to come here illegally but offered to pay you far more than you could get at home (nada) and not to enforce their laws so you could work and they could pay you slave wages there (but to you is a high wage), what would you do?

I know exactly what I would do.

Posted by shipleye
Sep 26 2011 – 12:12pm

I would suggest reading Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland which talks about the terrible working conditions of the migrant farm worker and the poisons that are sprayed on the fields and by “accident” the workers themselves.
I believe that a shorter version was published in Gourmet under the title: The price of tomatoes.

Posted by WayneWR
Sep 26 2011 – 12:27pm

I am not positive of this, but in most cases the greatest cost of doing busiess is usually employees wages… I am going to (assume) that would be true for the tomato business.

So,,, a field worker is paid (fifty cents) to pick 32 ponds of tomatoes, the same wages as they were paid in 1980… Something is very, very wrong here.

Two years ago a can of Cambell’s tomato soup cost between 55 cents up to 65 cents…  Now the price is more than a dollar and in some supermarkets a buck and a quarter… That steep rise is for all varieties of canned soups however…The price of all canned tomatoes, spaghetti sauses, has also about doubled in just two years.

One would think, it would be fair to have doubled the field workers wages in the past two years, or at least a fair pay hike.

Someone is makeing LOTS, tons  of unfair profit… Who? __ Who really controls the price of food? __ Fuel cost is currently about the same as two years ago and a lot less than four years ago, it isn’t just the cost of fuel that has raised the price of food so high.

Is it all due because they started using a FOOD crop (corn) to make ethanol, (instead of hemp),  and the price of corn very quickly went way up and so then did all other food prices go way up? __  I’d like to know. why the cost of food has skyrocketed in two to three years time.. .

And Trader Joes?__ We love TJs,,, much lower prices for almost everything and a great selection of breads, spices, unusual food items, etc… Paper bags too.

Posted by raydelcamino
Sep 26 2011 – 3:06pm

As WayneWR pointed out, the price of food in the US (not just food containing tomatoes) has doubled during the past two years While wages for the workers producing the food have been flat or declining.

Note that many third world nations have seen food costs more than double during the same period.

Doubling the cost of food in the US is the result of several factors, including the following:

Skyrocketing medical insurance costs for the workers producing, processing, transporting and selling food.

Serial regressive Federal Reserve monetary policy combined with unregulated speculation of the commodities (including fossil fuel) needed to produce, process, and transport food.

Higher electrical power costs caused by security costs and risk-shifting from owners to ratepayers.

A weak US dollar.

Posted by Heavyrunner
Sep 26 2011 – 2:56pm

The price of oil has also doubled in that time. Without oil, our global agricultural system collapses.

Posted by WayneWR
Sep 26 2011 – 12:46pm

I just thought of something else…  When I was a teen, in the 50s, living in New Jersey,  when harvest time came, all of us school kids, college students picked tomtoes, cukes, apples and peaches, blueberries, etc…  I was paid 50 cent for every half a bushel of apples back then., never saw any pickers from Mexico or South America.

What the heck has happened to us here in America?  This isn’t the America I grew up in.

Posted by raydelcamino
Sep 26 2011 – 3:10pm

ALL of the jobs  I worked at from age 12 through 25 (newspaper delivery, picking crops, construction, factory work) are now done by immigrants.  Parents today want their kids to have jobs that lead to one of the few careers that actually pay a decent salary.

Posted by NateW
Sep 26 2011 – 12:53pm

Perhaps Chris Hedges needs to do a bit more research as to where the majority tomatoes sold in Trader Joe’s come from (Mexico).  This sort of sloppy action really muddies the waters and reeks of ‘activism for hire’ along the lines of what the American Conservative Union did at the behest of FedEx against UPS a few years ago (notice the admonition to shop at the ultra-faux progressive Wal-Mart of chain markets, Whole Foods?).  While Trader Joe’s & their owner, Aldi Nord, are no paragons of shopping virtue by any stretch of the imagination, it will be a cold day in Hell before I ever step foot into John Mackey’s ‘Whole Paycheck.’

Posted by WayneWR
Sep 26 2011 – 1:56pm

Well ~~Nate~~ where do you think the tomatoes sold at Trader Joes, other than perhaps ‘organic’ grown come from? __ Have you done any resarch on that? __ How do you know how much research ~Chris Hedges~ has done or has not done on the tomato subject?

I know one thing,,, about 40% of our food is now imported and most of our veggies now arrive from Mexico and or South America…  And Wal-Mart can kiss my rear. I hate walking a half mile to get from the auto parts to the cookie jars and seeing 90% of the stores junk comes from China…   We once found swollen cans of diced carrots in a Wal-Mart.

Got a red vested “May I Help You” fellow to see it and he immediatly cleared the shelves… He said those canned carrots came from China… Scary huh?

Posted by Sonmi451
Sep 26 2011 – 2:16pm

What a perfect microcosm of our entire corrupt and contemptible system.  Most people are still under the destructive assumption that corporations “give” us jobs.  That the market will regulate itself and pay workers what they are “worth”.  Any study of capitalism, whether historical or contemporary, will reveal how corporations always have and always will maximize profits by ANY means necessary. Of course, that is their raison d’etre.  Employers will do as little as possible, until they are forced to do more.  It is what you get when you order a system based on greed and avarice.

Posted by Galenwainwright…
Sep 26 2011 – 2:37pm

The had a civil war once over shit like this.

You had people, your own citizens, suffer incredible hardship and destitution like this in the Lesser Great Depression.

The plight of the migrant worker, whether illegal immigrant or American born poor, has been popularized by the “liberal’ intelligentsia since the 1980’s.

AND NOTHING HAS CHANGED!

So either shit or get off the pot. Either these people are human beings deserving of basic dignity, or they are utterly expendable slaves who exist only to fuel the Corporations. Decide. Now.

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Honduras: Wealthy Landowners Attempt to Quash Farming Collectives September 16, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Friday 16 September 2011
by: Andrew Kennis, Truthout | News Analysis
 

 

The Bajo Aguán region of Honduras is a rich, fertile valley that comprises land that is worth nothing less than millions upon millions of dollars. It was not even two months ago that Secundino Ruiz, 44, proudly boasted to Truthout: “this valley is numero uno for agriculture in Central America; there’s corn here, beans, rice, fantastic African palms and everything that a human being would need.”

Hospitable and friendly, Ruiz extended a personal invitation to Truthout: “I’m going to propose you something, I would like for your colegas and you to all come to Bajo Aguán to see for yourselves just how beautiful it is here.”

Several masked men prevented Ruiz’s offer from ever being realized, as they shot him to death on August 20, and also seriously injured Eliseo Pavon, who suffered head wounds. Ruiz’s killers approached the taxi that he and Pavon occupied shortly after they had exited a bank with $10,260 of organizational funds in their possession.

The government and authorities have painted the event as nothing more than a robbery, but local farmers, researchers and activists do not agree with that perspective. Given Ruiz’s position as the vice president of the Authentic Peasant Protest Movement of Aguán (MARCA) and Pavon’s role as its treasurer, they argue that the killing was just one of many politically motivated killings that have been occurring on a regular basis in the region throughout the year.

Marcelino Lopez, a fellow MARCA activist and friend of Ruiz’s, described the loss: “He was a very accessible and dedicated activist filled with solidarity, who was a fantastic representative of the movement, who is going to be a tremendous loss to the movement.”

While 2011 has been a year filled with killings of activist farmers in the conflict-ridden region, August was an exceptionally violent month during what has been an exceptionally violent year.

Just one day following Ruiz’s murder, Pedro Salgado of the Unified Movement of Campesinos of Aguán (MUCA) and his wife were both shot and killed in their own home. Teenagers have been among the August victims as well: 17-year-old Javier Melgar was killed in the Rigores community on August 15, while 15- year-old Roldin Marel Villeda and 18-year-old Sergio Magdiel Amaya were slain just three days later in the municipality of Trujillo. Marel’s and Magdiel’s deaths occurred in the same incident that brought an end to the life of Victor Manuel Mata Oliva, aged 40. All were part of the Campesino Corporation of San Esteban, one of the two dozen cooperatives that form the base of MUCA. Examples of more teenager victimization included 17-year-old Lenikin Lemos Martinez and 18-year-old Denis Israel Castro, who were beaten by police, arrested and charged with murder (which residents claim were trumped-up charges). The beating occurred in the community Guadalupe Carney, which is home to the Campesino Movement of the Aguán and located near the eviction-riddled Rigores community (earlier this past summer, police evicted Rigores farmers by burning down well over 100 homes, as reported by Honduras-based journalist, Jesse Freeston and confirmed by international human rights observers).

Why is this violence occurring? What is the root of the conflict? Is the depiction of the situation in Aguán given by the Honduran government – only recently recognized internationally by the Organization of American States – an accurate reflection of what is going on? Bajo Aguán campesinos, as well as researchers and activists who have been visiting the region for decades worth of collective time, provided Truthout first-hand testimony in an effort to shed light on an otherwise largely overlooked, underreported and ongoing human and land rights catastrophe.

Plantation-Like State of Affairs Long Existent in Bajo Aguán

Annie Bird has been visiting Honduras for the last dozen years and is the co-director of Rights Action, a nonprofit and non-governmental organization, which funds community efforts in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador. Bird explained to Truthout that the campesinos first started organizing farming collectives and cooperatives back in the 1960s and ’70s. Those same groupings form the bedrock of most of the organized collectives in the region today.

By the 1990s, however, a temporary change to a previous law preventing land purchases of over 300 hectares devastated the farming cooperatives of the region. Among those that pounced on the opportunity to take advantage of the law was one of the wealthiest businessmen of Honduras, Miguel Farcusse, owner of Exportadores del Atlantico (Atlantic Exporters).

The 1990s land grab was shrouded in corruption and violence, according to Bird: “literally through kidnappings, at gunpoint and through corrupt methods and practices, much of the land was ‘sold’ to wealthy individuals.”

Those wealthy individuals were at the heart of an initiative by former President Zelaya. His administration had forged ahead with a decree announced on June 12, 2009, which contained the intention to return much of land to the campesino groups via a commission formed to do so. The process of investigating land titles to determine authenticity and validity had just begun when the coup which overthrew Zelaya occurred, completely interrupting the process.

As a result, the plantation-like land distribution and labor arrangements continued. The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief found that some one-third of the most desirable agricultural lands in Honduras are owned by just 1 percent of its populace.

MUCA first started issuing demands for a return to its land and eventually resorted to occupying lands (from December 2009 to February 2010).

Many of the landowners hired armed security guards, with Farcusse being the most prominent among them. The impunity enjoyed by the armed guards is what is chiefly responsible for the continuing violence in the region, Bird has argued, as no less than four dozen farmers have been killed by the guards since the latter’s training first began in January 2010.

While the government has accused the farmer collectives of using foreign firepower, there is little evidence to support such allegations – which have been roundly denied by the groups themselves. Further, some reports have indicated that it was Farcusse himself who had resorted to hiring 150 Colombian paramilitaries as the basis for his private army.

“We can assume that the recent violence is a means of terrorizing the farmers. After all, the people who have died are important farmer activists and not just random people; clearly, they have been targeted,” explained Gilberto Ríos, the director of the Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN) Honduras, an organization that has been following the situation closely.

Negotiations Continue to Flounder, Related Frustrations Lead to Increased Violence

The violence in the region has been a continuing source of embarrassment and concern to state authorities, who finally managed to broker a deal in April 2010. In the agreement, some 11,000 hectares of land would have been returned and distributed to the MUCA and MARCA farming collectives. Further, the arrangement included provisions for additional social services, such as additional education and health care facilities, as FIAN’s Claudia Pinera pointed out to Truthout.

The agreement’s implementation, however, was marred by violence, evictions, arrests and a general lack of follow-through. When Farcusse and other wealthy landowners got in on the act and negotiated their own arrangement with select MUCA representatives, the resulting June 2011 agreement had reduced the land to be distributed down to 4,000 hectares, not even half the total included in the April accords.

The farming representatives who negotiated the more recent agreement, however, were limited to farmers hailing from the northern bank. According to Bird, Farcusse and his landowner colleagues took on a divide-and-conquer strategy: “Since most of the leadership is comprised by northern bank representatives, the perception is that the landowners have been deliberately dividing the movement by favoring them in negotiations.”

Of the 28 most important farming collectives in the region, some 24 belong to MUCA, with about four associated with MARCA. Of those two dozen MUCA collectives, around two-thirds belong to the southern bank region of Aguán. None of their representatives, however, were present during the talks which led up to the June accord.

At the end of July, the southern bank representatives of MUCA re-emphasized its opposition to these arrangements.

Marcelino Lopez of MARCA revealed to Truthout that some breakaway farming collectives were retaking land above and beyond the June agreements, out of frustration from their exclusion and in opposition to the trajectory of the talks: “there are some unaffiliated farmers who are starting to recover lands that are outside of the scope of the agreements, as they are completely opposed to the way matters have developed.”

Lopez speculated that these breakaway groupings and their respective attempts to recover and reclaim land may have provoked the additional violence from the landowners’ security guards in August.

Nevertheless, Lopez expressed hope about forthcoming unity: “There is a little division in the MUCA, because of misunderstandings, but there are some indications that there is growing unity between the two wings [the northern and southern banks] and talks between them are ongoing.”

In the meantime, the armed guards employed by Farcusse and other landowners, continue to operate at will, a situation which has only worsened with the passage of time.

“There have been paramilitaries and death squads operating since January 2010 and the army started moving in around March 2011,” remarked Bird.

Organization of American States Recognition Pointed to as Exacerbating Factor, as Campesinos Continue to be Killed in September

Back in June, the lead Amnesty International researcher on Honduras, Esther Major, expressed some hope and cautious optimism to Truthout about the Organization of American States’ (OAS) decision – long lobbied for and supported by the US – to finally officially recognize Honduras: “We were hoping that Honduras would have made more progress before its admittance, but hope that they seize this opportunity to improve matters and likewise, that the OAS tracks matters so that this can be accomplished.”

Gerrardo Torres, who is the international representative of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), offered a contradicting prediction to Truthout: “The Honduran regime has gained a legitimacy that it does not deserve and from our perspective, this will likely raise – not decrease – the level of violence present both in Aguán and beyond.”

As the month of September begins after a bloody August, the prediction by Torres is largely being borne out, as yet another killing was announced by MUCA and relayed by FIAN on Friday, September 2: “Olvin David González Godoy, a young 24-year man – married and with an eight-month-old baby girl – was assassinated today in the early morning hours. He was a member of the July 21st Cooperative, affiliated with MUCA … the organizers of the cooperative don’t have any doubt that his death was related to the agrarian conflict that continues without a solution.”

The cooperative also expressed its opposition to a continually escalating military and police presence in the region, as 600 more soldiers and 400 more police were dispatched to Aguán in the wake of August’s violence.

Adrienne Pine, an assistant professor of anthropology at American University who specializes in research on Honduras, and has regularly visited the country since 1997, criticized the OAS and US policy on Honduras, linking the stances taken to the continuing abuses:

The State Department’s lobbying efforts to bring Honduras back into the fold and recognized in the international community were successful. But the Cartagena Accords, which re-inserted Honduras into the global community as a legitimate state, means that there’s less pressure from international institutions such as the OAS. The implicit and explicit agreement was that the State would be recognizing human rights. But any of us who was following this with a critical eye, didn’t believe a word of it. Now, we’re seeing the results of that.

Elaborating on US support for the regime and non-action on internal abuses, Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy told Truthout that the March 2010 restoration of military aid by the US to Honduras prompted “widespread criticism.” Alexander Main of the Center for Economic Policy and Research echoed such sentiments, pointing out that “full throttle support for the regime” dated back all the way to November 2009, with the decision to support the election which elected the Lobos regime, an election that was not recognized by most of Latin America.

Will impunity for hired “security” agents of wealthy landowners against the long-running struggle of Aguán’s farming collectives continue to reign? Whatever the outcome, Aguán will certainly continue to be a central part of crafting the future of a country still reeling from the effects of the July 2009 coup and the subsequent coup-supported Lobos regime. For the time being and as Torres told Truthout, “the police and the military continue to terrorize the population with impunity.”

Coalition of Immokalee Workers Brings Farmworker Movement to the Streets August 7, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Florida, Immigration, Labor.
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Published on Saturday, August 6, 2011 by In These Times

  by Michelle Chen

The hot summer has brought in a bumper crop of food activism from coast to coast. For the past few weeks, a group of Florida farm workers has embarked on a marketing coup that challenges the country’s food business giants by educating consumers about exploitation in the tomato industry.

(Image: Coalition of Immokalee Workers) The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has made a name for itself by using creative consumer-driven campaigns to promote fairer wages and working conditions for tomato harvesters, a workforce fueled by Latino migrant laborers. Though corporate resistance has been formidable, the group has scored a series of victories over the past few years over the likes of Taco Bell, Burger King and Subway. Partnering with consumer groups and fair-food activists, the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food seeks to educate people about the brutal labor that goes into each tomato.

Farmworkers’ backbreaking toil will be spotlighted on some of the trendiest sidewalks in Manhattan on Friday, with rallies at Trader Joe’s stores in the Village and Chelsea. The actions follow a similar campaign on the West Coast in which protesters in San Francisco and Berkeley wielded paper-bag picket signs and marched through the Mission District calling on drivers to “Honk for Farm Worker Justice.” The CIW now counts a number of religious leaders and gourmet food activist Barry Estabrook among its allies.

The Coalition says its multi-pronged struggle involves “all the elements of our country’s food industry,” from the folks hauling baskets all the way up to the florescent-lit supermarket aisle. Most importantly, the organization banks on the political leverage of consumers to push stores and suppliers to abide by ethical standards. With an active membership of several thousand, the workers themselves participate as well through organizing and educating people on “humanizing our farm labor system.”

The workers’ key demand, an additional penny per pound of tomatoes picked, seems a tiny cost for consumers and producers to absorb, given the workers’ long hours, arduous working conditions and their vulnerability to maltreatment and even slave labor. The pennies do add up for laborers, potentially boosting yearly earnings by several thousand dollars. (Typical wages amount to less than $12,000 annually, according to the Coalition, and after years of virtually stagnant wages, “a worker today must pick more than 2.25 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday.”)

CIW’s summer Truth Tour demonstrations, which focus on big-name grocers, have been decried by the right-wing blogosphere as a “Prototypical Example of Alinsky Tactics and Smug Self-Immortalization.” Translation: an effective protest action.

The campaign puts Trader Joe’s hip, liberal brand in a bind: the company complained publicly in May that while it was willing to comply with CIW’s demands in general, specific provisions of the draft agreement were “overreaching” and “improper.” CIW responded with lengthy point-by-point rebuttals and declared, ‘It seems that the longer Trader Joe’s resists the Fair Food movement, the more its leadership — from the CEO to the public relations department — is determined to tarnish the company’s reputation as an ethical, progressive grocer.”

The organizing model evokes interesting historical comparisons with another wave of farm labor activist in the 1960s and 1970s led by United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez, which pioneered union organizing in agriculture. Yet the UFW has lost political salience over the years, as working conditions have deteriorated.

The younger, nimbler CIW is not a union, but in many ways neither needs nor desires the conventional union structure. The fluid, precarious nature of migrant labor is a barrier to movement building, yet at the same time, the tomato industry’s severe consolidation across the supply chain provide fertile ground for focused, visible campaigns that mobilize consumers and workers in tandem.

Last fall, Kari Lydersen reported that faced with pressure from consumers and workers, some of Florida’s big growers had finally agreed to the penny-per-pound wage subsidy. Soon after, the Coalition clinched a groundbreaking deal with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which bound major growers to a contract that includes “a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process.” The agreement, estimated to cover more than 90 percent of Florida’s tomato industry, helps close a crucial gap in the chain, since retailers and restaurants agreeing to the penny raise could guarantee that the benefit would trickle down to workers.

The enforcement mechanism within the binding agreement is designed to keep growers and suppliers in check, using an outside nonprofit group to monitor compliance, so that, at least in theory, any grower that violates the code won’t be able to sell to retailers also bound to the agreement. CIW organizer Lucas Benitez told Naples Daily News that employers have to answer to both their buyers and their workers:

With this agreement, we will be working with growers to identify and eliminate abuses through a cooperative complaint investigation and resolution system, with real consequences for violations, including zero tolerance for forced labor.

In the absence of strong government regulation, the Coalition’s strategy aims not just to force employers to obey labor laws but also strive for decent working standards overall, in order to turn Florida’s tomato industry from a bastion of poverty into, in Benitez’s words, “a model of social accountability for the 21st century.”

Whether such industrial change can be wrought by a motley alliance of some of the country’s poorest workers, the biggest food brands, and the savviest customers, has yet to be seen. But if a bunch of migrant farm workers can get Manhattan hipsters to think seriously about who picked their salad this summer, they’re on the road to victory.

© 2011 In These Times

The First Lady and The Monsanto-Washington Unification Process Vs. Our Human Rights July 25, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Environment, Human Rights, Science and Technology.
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Roger’s note:  the tone of this ariticle is sarcastic; this may offend some reader, and, if so, I am sorry; but what is a thousand times more offensive is what the article reveals.

Lenore Daniels, www.opednews.com,  July 24, 2008

The effect is again a magical and hypnotic one–the projection of images which convey irresistible unity, harmony of contradictions. Thus the loved and fear Father, the spender of life, generates the H-bomb for the annihilation of life; “science-military’ joins the efforts to reduce anxiety and suffering with the job of creating anxiety and suffering.

Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man

 

 

Monsanto has great respect for all of us, little people, and for Mother Earth, the source of all its (Monsanto’s) material wealth. But Monsanto would like to remind the world that however much those activists transgressors in Brazil condemn its connection to the use of dioxin in a current project to defoliate the rain forest or however much those Vietnam Vets agitators shout about the long-term harmful effects of Agent Orange, Monsanto is a new humanitarian enterprise, working with struggling farmers on behalf of the poor and starving children of the world. Monsanto, along with the cooperative government of the U.S. and other Western nations, envisions a future filled with healthy and happy humans.

 

Chuckle. Chuckle.

 

We have great respect for the U.S. soldiers sent to war and all those affected by the Vietnam conflict. All sides share in the pain from this difficult time in our history. One of the legacies of that war is Agent Orange, where questions remain nearly 40 years later.

 

By way of background, the U.S. military used Agent Orange from 1961 to 1971 to save the lives of U.S. and allied soldiers by defoliating dense vegetation in the Vietnamese jungles and therefore reducing the chances of ambush.

 

As the war began and intensified, the U.S. government used its authority under the Defense Production Act to issue contracts to seven major chemical companies to obtain Agent Orange and other herbicides for use by U.S. and allied troops in Vietnam. The government specified the chemical composition of Agent Orange and when, where and how the material was to be used in the field, including application rates. Agent Orange was one of 15 herbicides used for military purposes during the Vietnam War and the most commonly applied. It received its name because of the orange band around containers of the material”

 

There have been a number of lawsuits. Monsanto and the six other chemical manufacturers reached agreement with U.S. veterans in a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in 1984 that involved millions of U.S. veterans and their families. There was not a finding of fault. It was settled by the parties rather than undertake a lengthy and complicated trial. The $180 million in funds that were part of the agreement were distributed according to a plan developed in part by U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein”

 

[There have been other lawsuits since 2009 but]“

 

Monsanto is now primarily a seed and agricultural products company.

 

We believe that the adverse consequences alleged to have arisen out of the Vietnam War, including the use of Agent Orange, should be resolved by the governments that were involved. (Monsanto.com)

 

((“The Agent Orange produced by Monsanto had dioxin levels many times higher than that produced by Dow Chemicals, the other major supplier of Agent Orange to Vietnam,”   “The Legacy of Agent Orange” at Corp Watch.com.))

 

(((Monsanto produced “some of the most toxic substances ever created,” according to an investigative report entitled, “Harvest of Fear,” published at Vanity Fair, May 2008.)))

 

You are now ordered to forget those images of children with skin burned and bloodied; babies with two heads and one eye, deformed and missing limbs–forget them! Whatever happened in the past was unintentional.   We were ordered by your government to do it! If harm was done when Monsanto was the Monsanto we are not now, sorry! Contact your government and scream until you pass out! We are “dedicated to a better place for future generations.”

In the “imagined future,” one in which we have “foreknowledge” and “mystically share in,” that “dark place” of the Orwellian realm (1984), Monsanto assures us that information is available, accessible, and understandable,” (Monsanto.com).

Infringe on Monsanto’s patents of genetically modified food or transgress its seed laws and its “shadowy army” of private investigators and agents–“secretly” videotaping and photographing wrong doers, and infiltrating “community meetings”–will   to “get you” (“Harvest of Fear”). Farmers know Monsanto as the “seed police,” the “Gestapo” of the Heartland.

 

We are witnessing the criminalization of producing and consuming healthy food.

 

Here is what the telescreen preaches to us: the U.S. Empire has detected a problem. The results of studies are in and obesity is that problem. Citizens of the U.S. of A. are obese! The littlest of the little people, the children, are “too fat.” They indulge in “fatty foods.” The children along with their parents are irresponsible.

 

The first Black First Lady enters the picture. The mother of two well-feed children, except for the occasional treat of French fries, is in search of obese children. In a timely manner, Michelle Obama launches her “Let’s Move” program, later in that same year (2010), she announces that she “wants to take her campaign to reduce childhood obesity to a bigger audience: the global one.”

 

Everyone applauds! Cameras follow the First Lady as she flies from one end of the country to the other, promoting the consumption of greens, carrots, apples, and strawberries, (and indulging occasionally in a side dish of French fries).

 

Monsanto has the future of our children on its horizon–and it would seem Mrs. Obama does too!

 

The International Journal of Biological Science issued its findings, too, and it found a problem, too, with 3 genetically modified corn varieties produced by the new, supposedly non-lethal Monsanto. In fact, this study found the problem to be with the giant Monsanto! “80 percent of all corn grown in the U.S. had been genetically modified by Monsanto.” Three strains of corn tested caused serious problems in the liver (organichealthadvisor.com) and this is just one example of the risk Monsanto’s food products pose for the current and future generations of children. Agriculture Society reports that the Institute for Responsible Technology found the following health issues arising from consuming GMO foods:

 

Infertility

Immune system problems

Accelerated aging

Faulty insulin regulation

Development of pathogenic bacteria in the digestive tract

Changes in other major organs

 

The International Journal of Biological Science report concludes: This is a “huge problem.” (And let us not forget–health insurance is another problem in the heartland of the U.S. Empire!).

 

Any word from the First Lady about Monsanto, GMOs, health risks for eating just about anything, including veggies and fruits?

 

Do not look to Monsanto to give up either!

 

Monsanto is a master shape-shifter like so many we can think of today operating at the headquarters imperial power in Washington D.C. In fact, you might find more Monsanto shape-shifters in Washington than anywhere else.   That is because the First Lady’s husband, President Barrack Obama and Monsanto want to ensure the longevity of the corporation.

 

Here is President Barrack Obama shuffling Monsanto food executives and research scientists from the boardroom and labs to the global reaches of the U.S. Empire faster than his wife, the First Lady, can fly to her next lecture on “obesity.”. Former Monsanto executives occupy leadership positions in the Department of Agriculture.

 

 

In “Farming–Why Obama’s Government is George Wallace, Monsanto is the KKK, and We Are All Black Children” (Opednews.com),   Linn Cohen Cole writes about Monsanto’s “rural cleansing” campaign.   Oh, Monsanto is everywhere! The First Lady should not miss omnipotent beings in the halls of the White House, in Congress, certainly not at the Department of Agriculture and not at the Supreme Court where Justice Clarence Thomas, another former Monsanto employee, loves his Monsanto more than he does our current and future generation of children.

 

Since Thomas’ appointment, writes Cole, the court has ruled in favor of genetically altered organisms and, in addition, has upheld laws protecting Monsanto’s “intellectual property rights.” As a result, Monsanto’s “rural cleansing” campaign is chasing farmers off their lands, from one end of the country to the other, while contaminating nature with its genetically engineered products. This is all good, for Clarence, and apparently the White House and the First Lady, too, flying, to and from, above it all!

 

Cole argues that these rulings are in “violation of our civil rights.” Here is a “”justice,'” Cole continues, destroying “previously taken for granted and thus undefined civil and human rights around nature.” We can generalize about “agriculture” and “commodities” or “profits””but “the profound truth that this is about life or death and our civil rights to live” is left out of the argument.

 

And you would think Thomas, Mr. Obama, and Mrs. Obama should know all about the civil right to live! But here is the 21st Century is Thomas, loyal corporate man, Barrack Obama, organizer of the Monsanto-Washington unification process, and Mrs. Obama saving our children’s lives from the ravages of obesity!

 

Mrs. Obama giving us images of Black obese children and then Brown obese children and then obese white children careful not to give us images of parents working 2 or 3 jobs, if they are working at all, and children, then, who are left to eat potato chips and candy, genetically engineered corn-based products for breakfast, lunch, and sometimes even dinner while watching television commercials featuring genetically fattened chicken. Where are the urban, migrant poor and the working class children to establish a garden like the one Mrs. Obama tenders at the White House? (Ah, “urban cleansing”! They have done that already!).

 

Unintentional, you think? Corporate and government indifference is deadly!

 

Monsanto’s food products not only contribute to “obesity” in children (and adults as well), but also contributes to the rise in diabetes, cancer, and heart disease (Cole).

 

Talk about insanity–on a grand level!

 

But let me reiterate! The installation of Clarence Thomas as an administer of justice and Barrack Obama as a Commander-in-Chief (or is that Chef?) at the helm of the U.S. Empire represents strategic steps, salvos, intended to kill anything human or natural! (So much for the end of the Agent Orange era!). Rights are rendered to corporations these dark days. You can only imagine the light in our future,

 

Returning to Cole–the author, like so many of us non-important, little people, recognizes from here below, that Monsanto is practicing a form of “discrimination,” where “one group is using corrupt means to discriminate against a defined segment of the population–all of us who wish to live.”

 

Cole is not alone in condemning not only Monsanto but also the system that is out to destroy life, human and nature, on this planet.   Cole’s observation is one voiced by those few of us Black commentators who were critical of that mechanizing and criminalizing system and the selection of Obama (the first “Black” president) chosen by Wall Street and the corporate rulers to oversee the further progress of a One World order. But the foot soldiers of “progress,” the liberal-progressive-alternative-left media thanked the Daley Machine on LaSalle Street and obliged the Democratic Party by bracketing our warnings in double, triple parenthesis–with a warning of their own: shut up!

 

“Progress” is buying the double talk and eating the crap!   And we are where we are today!

 

Cole writes: Obama “is a black man [the George Wallace of this generation] overseeing a government that is discriminating and abusing a marginalized group.” But it is not one racial or ethnic group, or one class, or only women marginalized today. Here is a George Wallace in controlling and selling humans and the land to the Monsantos of the world, the KKK, Cole argues. All of us are the little Black children of yesterday.

 

All of us are the little people subject to whims of the state police and the “food” police, and labels of “terrorists” or “food” terrorists.

 

Cole continues:

 

This is not just an agricultural issue. It is a civil rights and a human rights issue–the most profound in human history since it is about the right to (normal) nature and survival itself. The totalitarian and corrupt parties discriminating against us all can only be dealt with once we see this as a single issue and come together in a civil rights movement on behalf of us all.

 

But do not turn your eyes away from the First Lady who, for fear of losing life as she knows it, is the savior of children one minute and is campaign cheerleader the next.   All in a day’s work–for the Big People!

 

For husband’s re-election, for the corporatist Party, and for corporate rulers, the First Lady reads Monsanto’s letter to transgressors and agitators, salutes and says, “I do, too.”

 

Catch that smile and those wonderful gowns!

 

No wonder Monsanto exchanged its dusty fatigues for a more formal, more “global” one of skull and bones.

 

Published at The Black Commentator.com, July 21, 2011

Farm Workers Witness Historic Vote on Fair Treatment of Farm Workers Act May 19, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Labor.
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By Edgar Sanchez
Special to the UFW

SACRAMENTO – California’s farm workers would be able to vote without fear for union representation under a historic bill approved Monday by the State Assembly after lengthy debate.

SB 104 – the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act – passed by a 51-to-25 party-line vote, prompting applause from 160 farm laborers packing the Assembly Gallery. Another 100-plus farm workers and their supporters watched the debate on television, in a legislative hearing room.

The bill, previously passed by the Senate, now awaits the signature of Governor Jerry Brown to become law.

The measure, granting farm workers the same organizing rights enjoyed by all state employees, is strongly opposed by the state’s $36 billion agricultural industry.

Introduced by Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), SB 104 would give the state’s more than 400,000 farm workers an alternative to on-the-job polling place elections to decide whether to join a union. The new option would allow them to fill out state-issued representation ballots in their homes, away from bosses’ threats and other interference.  If a simple majority – more than 50 percent — of workers sign the ballots, their jobs would be unionized.

All elections would be supervised by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, with the workers choosing the process.

In a bid to derail SB 104, opponents in the Assembly described it as a job killer, “an anti-democracy bill” and a tool to “blatantly stack the deck against employers.”

Supporters called it a long-overdue proposal to end years of abuse by some unscrupulous labor contractors and growers fighting the United Farm Workers Union.

 “This is a great victory for us,” Felipe, a 30-year-old farm worker from Kern County, said after the vote.  “There won’t be any more intimidation on the part of contractors or farm bosses when union elections take place.

“There won’t be because if 104 becomes law, the vote could be in your house, without anybody pressuring you,” he said.

 Felipe – not his real name — requested anonymity because he fears reprisals from his employer, who he said intimidated workers into voting against unionization in 2006.

“Before the election, we were told we would lose our jobs if we voted for the union,” the $8-an-hour laborer  said. “I came to Sacramento today without my bosses’ knowledge. They don’t know that I came here.”

The Assembly passed SB 104 on the third anniversary of the heat-related death of Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez, 17, who had collapsed on a vineyard east of Stockton.  The pregnant laborer fainted after being denied proper access to water and shade in nearly 100-degree heat.

In all, 16 farm workers have died in the California heat since 2005, Luis A. Alejo (D-Watsonville), SB 104’s principal co-author, stated on the Assembly floor.

He cited two main reasons for the ongoing deaths:  Employers, including Maria Isavel’s, intentionally disregard heat regulations and the state seldom enforces the laws.

Even the justice system failed Maria Isavel, Alejo said, expressing disbelief that no one went to prison after she was “killed.”

“Those responsible for her death were ‘sentenced’ to community service,” despite prior worker-safety law violations, he said.  “Community service? For manslaughter?  I don’t need to be an attorney to know that that is a disservice to our justice system.”

Noting that Maria Isavel’s uncle, Doroteo Jimenez, was in the Assembly Gallery, Alejo urged colleagues to “consider telling him that we will not let Maria Isavel’s death be for nothing … but, not with our words.  But, with our actions today.”

Mariko Yamada (D-Davis), said that when Maria Isavel died, “her body temperature was over 108 degrees.”

“Members, can you believe that only six years ago there were no standards for working in the heat in California?” she said.  “…Today, we have an opportunity to take another step on the long, tortuous path for civil rights in the farm worker community.

“I ask for your ‘Aye’ vote” on SB 104, she said.

Asking for a “No” vote was Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks.

“I rise in opposition to this bill, even though I support the cause of protecting the farm workers in the field,” he said. “Right now, we tolerate a system where (they) are systematically abused.  They are exploited …

“SB 104 does nothing to protect farm workers,” he said.

Also blasting SB 104 was Bill Berryhill (R-Ceres), a longtime farmer who said that, if enacted, 104 would “get rid” of secret-ballot elections on ranches.

The bill runs counter to what Cesar Chavez fought for, Berryhill said, reminding that the UFW’s co-founder campaigned for farm workers’ right to choose a union through secret ballots.

William W. Monning (D-Carmel),  responded to Donnelly’s and Berryhill’s remarks.

“Mr. Berryhill is right,” Monning said.  “The philosophy of Cesar Chavez, (fellow UFW co-founder) Dolores Huerta and the union was to achieve secret-ballot protection for farm workers.”

That milestone came in 1975 when then-Governor Jerry Brown signed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act into law, he said.

Monning, a distinguished lawyer and former law professor, told colleagues he knows how the Act evolved.  In the mid-1970s, he worked in the UFW’s Legal Department as it lobbied legislators for the Act’s passage.

But, Monning said, “under the current rules … once a petition for election is filed it sets in motion a wave of disparate power – the power of the labor contractor, the power of growers to maximize threats, intimidation, closed company meetings (to) dissuade workers” from voting for union representation, “even in the privacy of that secret ballot.”

“So now, by the time we get to election day, the election’s already been determined,” he said.  “So we need to amend this law to level the playing field, to allow workers in the privacy of their homes, labor camps, to sign a card authorizing union representation” for themselves.

Then, in what appeared to be a direct rebuke to Donnelly, Monning denounced “those colleagues who say they oppose this bill because they care about farm worker rights.”

He continued:  “When I look to an authority on farm worker rights, I look to farm workers.  And farm workers are here today, here at their own expense, many missing a day of work asking us to give them the tools to end the exploitation of unscrupulous labor contractors who intimidate, bend the rules and violate the rights.

“Members, the legacy of Cesar Chavez is embedded in this legislation.  I ask for your ‘Aye’ vote.”

The farm workers applauded enthusiastically.

Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, accused opponents of distorting the facts.

SB 104, he said, “does not eliminate the secret ballot.  It simply adds card check … as another option for farm workers to choose collective bargaining.”

Sandré  R. Swanson, D-Oakland, said SB 104 would make it easier for farm workers to organize and demand basic rights that other workers in California already have.

“We’re talking about the right for farm workers not to have to die of heat stroke, to have adequate water, available restrooms and decent pay,” he said.  “That is fundamental to the opportunity to work in this state.”

After arriving in California’s capital from across the state, the farm workers had assembled at mid-morning in the basement of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, where they were welcomed by, among others, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, several assembly members and Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento.

“You are pilgrims seeking a better way of life,” Soto told the gathering.  “You deserve human benefits.  And you are not alone in your struggle.  Many people support you.”

Rodriguez said simply:  “Today, we’ll be witnesses to history.”

With that, the farm laborers began a silent pilgrimage to the Capitol, a couple of blocks away.

After the vote, Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), Assemblymember Alejo and other members of the Legislature addressed a cheering UFW crowd in the Capitol basement.  The speakers vowed to do what needs to be done to ensure that Governor Brown signs SB 104.

Edgar Sanchez is a former writer for The Sacramento Bee and The Palm Beach Post

 

Greenpeace Claims Sweet Victory Over Nestle May 17, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Environment.
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(Roger’s note: Nestle has a long history of anti-social practices.  At one time they were actively promoting the use of their baby formula in third world countries where there was only access to contaminated water for mixing.  More recently, they have been in effect legally stealing ground water in Guelph, Canada.  It is good to see them get their comeuppance for a change.)

Published on Monday, May 17, 2010 by The Age (Australia)by Stuart Washington

Environment group Greenpeace has claimed social media led to its success in a campaign that linked global food giant Nestle’s chocolate bar KitKat to deforestation in Indonesian rainforests and the destruction of orang-utan habitats.

[A Greenpeace activist dressed as an orang-utan protests outside the Nestle head office in Sydney April 22, 2010. The activists were protesting Nestle's use of palm oil from Indonesia in their products, destroying the habitats of orang-utans. (REUTERS/Greenpeace/Dean Sewell/Handout) ]
A Greenpeace activist dressed as an orang-utan protests outside the Nestle head office in Sydney April 22, 2010. The activists were protesting Nestle’s use of palm oil from Indonesia in their products, destroying the habitats of orang-utans. (REUTERS/Greenpeace/Dean Sewell/Handout)

Today in Malaysia, Nestle announced a partnership with not-for-profit organisation The Forest Trust (TFT), promising to adhere to responsible sourcing guidelines for palm oil. 

In a Greenpeace report titled Caught Red-handed, launched on March 17, Greenpeace exposed Nestle’s use of Indonesian logging company Sinar Mas and subsidiaries including Asia Pulp and Paper to obtain palm oil.

Palm oil is used as an ingredient in Nestle chocolate products, including its well known KitKat chocolate bars.

Greenpeace said Sinar Mas was implicated in rainforest destruction and the destruction of orang-utan habitats as it planted plantations for palm oil and pulp.

An accompanying video posted on YouTube went on to record more than 1 million views – in part because Nestle had attempted to have it removed, Stephen Campbell, the head of campaigns for Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said today.

“[Social media] played an enormous role,” Mr Campbell said. “Within 24 hours the campaign was global because of the web video.”

By March 31, Nestle had agreed to stop dealing directly with Sinar Mas and its subsidiaries.

Today’s announcement and the involvement of TFT marks a further step, in that it commits Nestle to no longer source Sinar Mas products indirectly through third-party suppliers.

Nestle said it would “focus on the systematic identification and exclusion of companies owning or managing high risk plantations or farms linked to deforestation”.

Mr Campbell said Nestle had shown a misunderstanding of the role of social media.

“It’s no longer about broadcasting, it’s about interaction,” he said.

Copyright © 2010 Fairfax Digital

Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan Goes to Bat for Monsanto, Sides With Conservative Justices May 13, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Criminal Justice, Environment, Health.
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(Roger’ note: Suprme Court Justice Nominee ElenaKagan is known for her penchant for hiring white males at Harvard, her support for violating the constitution and international law with respect to torture, habeas corpus and executive power; and now we see how friendly she can be to huge corporate interests when they are challenged by environmentalists and health advocates.  Thank you, President Obama.)

Thursday 13 May 2010

by: Joshua Frank, t r u t h o u t | Report

photo
(Photo: Harvard Law Record)

Alfalfa is the fourth largest crop grown in the United States and Monsanto wants to control it. On April 27, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could well write the future of alfalfa production in our country.

Fortunately, for those who are concerned about the potential environmental and health impacts of genetically engineered (GE) crops, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is not yet residing on the bench.

For the past four years, the Center for Food Safety (CFS), a Washington DC-based consumer protection group, and others have litigated against Monsanto and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding the company’s Roundup Ready alfalfa. The coalition has focused their fight against Monsanto’s GE alfalfa, based on concerns that the plants could negatively impact biodiversity as well as other non-GE food crops.

In 2007, a California US District Court ruled in a landmark case that the USDA had illegally approved Monsanto’s GE alfalfa without carrying out a proper and full Environmental Impact Statement. The plaintiffs argued that GE alfalfa could contaminate nearby crops with its genetically manipulated pollen. Geertson Seed Farm, with the help of CFS, claimed that the farm’s non-GE crops could be damaged beyond repair by Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa.

Monsanto’s well-paid legal team appealed the court’s decision, but, in June 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the previous ruling and placed a nationwide ban on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa.

“USDA should start over and truly evaluate the contamination of non-GM alfalfa and the potential affects on seed growers, organic and natural meat producers, dairy producers, and conventional and organic honey producers,” said farmer and anti-GE advocate Todd Leake shortly after the ruling.

Monsanto, however, didn’t back down and appealed the Ninth Circuit’s decision to the US Supreme Court. In stepped Elena Kagan, whose role as solicitor general is to look out for the welfare of American citizens in all matters that come before the high court.

Unfortunately, Kagan opted to ditch her duty and instead side with Monsanto. In March 2010, a month before the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case, the solicitor general’s office released a legal brief despite the fact that the US government was not a defendant in the case.

As Kagan’s office argued, “The judgment of the court of appeals should be reversed, and the case should be remanded with instructions to vacate the permanent injunction entered by the district court.”

Despite numerous examples of cross-pollination of GE crops, Monsanto argued during the April 27 court proceedings that this was highly unlikely to occur. CFS and other plaintiffs are concerned that a federal law could be affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Courts in Oregon and California have already argued in previous cases that GE seeds must also be studied as to the potential impact on other conventional and organic crops.

Surprisingly, it seems that Kagan does not support a thorough study of GE seeds and their potential impact on environmental and human health. In doing so, Kagan has sided with conservative justices on the court who appeared skeptical that the lower courts had made the right decision in banning GE alfalfa.

During the Supreme Court hearings, Chief Justice John Roberts questioned whether the Ninth Circuit had the authority to issue a ban on GE alfalfa. Roberts contented that the court ought to have instead remanded the issue back to the USDA. Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia took his defense of Monsanto even further, stating, “This isn’t the contamination of the New York City water supply,” he said. “This isn’t the end of the world, it really isn’t.”

Apparently Scalia and Roberts aren’t up on the latest scientific analysis that Monsanto’s GE crops have, in fact, bred new voracious super-weeds, which have forced farmers to “spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand, and return to more labor-intensive methods like regular plowing.”

“Bowing to pressure from Monsanto and the other biotech companies, our federal agencies approved [GE] corn and cotton without requiring any mandatory testing for environmental impacts,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for the CFS recently wrote. “And the expected happened: a few years later, independent university researchers – again not the government – discovered that this [GE] pesticide was potentially fatal to Monarch butterflies and other pollinators … Without mandatory government testing, we’re clueless about the universe of keystone pollinators and other species that are being decimated as the [GE] plants continue to proliferate in our fields.”

The Supreme Court’s decision on Monsanto’s alfalfa ban will likely come early this summer. Justice Stephen Breyer recused himself from the case because his brother Charles Breyer oversaw the lower court’s decision against the company. Unsurprisingly, Justice Clarence Thomas, who once worked in the legal department for Monsanto, did not recuse himself from the matter.

While Elena Kagan has no experience on the bench and has provided the public with little to no information about where she stands on some of the most important issues of the day, the fact that she came to bat for Monsanto two months, at a time when the company is reeling from negative press, may shed some light on how she could rule in future GE cases if she’s confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice.

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