Any American who has eaten a winter tomato, either purchased at a supermarket or on top of a fast food salad, has eaten a fruit picked by the hand of a slave. “That’s not an assumption. That is a fact.”
– Douglas Molloy, US District Attorney, Ft. Myers, FL.
I recently had the pleasure to read a copy of Tomatoland, by Barry Estabrook, and I can’t stop talking about it. Not only is it a great piece of investigative journalism, it helps bring light to an issue still taking place all throughout fields and farms in America.
Here are a few highlights from Tomatoland.
- The Labors Relations Act does not outlaw discrimination against farmworkers: Children as young as 12 are legally allowed to work on a farm. Farmworkers do not receive overtime.
- Tomato harvesters are paid on a “piece basis,” and by law the piece basis must reach the minimum wage in Florida ($7.25 an hour), and often do not earn over $40 a day.
- The average household income for farmworkers is between $15,000 to $17,500 a year.
Checimal Use in Farming:
- In 2006, nearly eight million pounds of insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides were used on tomato crops in Florida.
- 54 percent of tomato samples sold in the US contain detectable levels of pesticides. The USDA found traces of over 35 pesticides of Floridian tomatoes: 6 of those pesticides are neurotoxins, 14 are endrocine disruptors, and 3 cause birth defects and reproduction problems.
- Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Publix, Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC, A&W, Long John Silvers, McDonalds all use tomatoes grown in Florida.
In the 1990’s, a group of fieldworkers formed the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and created the Campaign for Fair Food, the Anti-Slavery Campaign, and the Modern Day Slavery Museum. Because of their efforts,numerous food industries have agreed to pay fieldworkers one more penny per every pound they pick. The “Fair Food Agreement” has a long way to go before workers recieve fair compensation for the work they do in the field, but it’s a definite start in the right direction.
- Food Industries that have signed The Coalition of Immokalee Workers Fair Food Agreement:
- Trader Joes
- Burger King
- Taco Bell
So what can we do to make sure that we as consumers do not assist the modernday slavery issue happening right under our nose? Find out where your food comes from, and the conditions of the farm and the fields of where your food was grown. I, for one, will make sure that I buy local, fresh, organic , and sustainable produce whenever possible.