Organic farm animals treated like organic farm workers

Organic advocates feel good about themselves when they buy organic foods. They believe they are helping the small farmer, (not necessarily so) the environment (matter of debate) and how humanely the animals are treated. (they’d rather let a calf die than administer one dose of antibiotics to save its life and make it ineligible for organic certification). But do they ever wonder about how those organic farms treat their workers? They should.

The unspoken truth is that worker exploitation is the same in organic farming as it is in big conventional farming. Many organic farms pay substandard wages, have no job security and have arbitrary rules the workers must obey.

A recent article on the Nation of Change site asked,  “Do you side with anti-worker…forces…”  Then they go on to explain how anti-worker these big companies are.

United Farm Workers spokesman, Mark Grossman told grist.org, “There’s a common conventional wisdom by a lot of consumers, especially at the higher-end stores, that just because it’s organic the workers are treated better. “And that’s simply not true.”

Urban Habitat, in a 2011 survey of 500 organic growers in California found, “only 7.5 percent were in favor of labor standards. Forty-seven percent felt strongly that organic standards should not include labor standards and over 50 percent felt that organic certification should not require growers to provide workers with health insurance, paid sick leave, paid vacation, or the right to unionize.”

An alternet.org article called, The Ugly Truth Behind Organic Foodtells the tale of California’s first organic berry farm. Swanton Berry Farm, is the first organic farm in that state to  be unionized. Swanton is a small farm and farms only 200 acres with a staff of 50 during the peak season.

The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture details a little more about the benefits Swanton’s worker enjoy. Among them are a guaranteed decent pay scale, paid time off and health insurance.

The writer of the alternet article wonders,, “Why is this place such an anomaly in the organic movement?”

Because farms are organic, people assume that it’s an enlightened labor standard,” says Michael Meuter, an attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance. “But that’s not accurate. There are definitely labor violations on organic farms.

A few other tidbits from the article:

The No. 1 complaint among both groups is that they receive neither state minimum wage nor overtime pay

The Organic Trade Association, a marketing group that represents organic products is focused on increasing sales and protecting the current USDA organic standards. According to Barbara Haumann of the association, the group “isn’t minimizing labor issues, but other [issues] have taken up so much time and energy.”

The hostility of many organic growers to labor issues was evident in a 2006 report cited by CIRS, which found that most preferred to not include social standards in USDA certification.

Now, some of the organic activist groups who support Prop 37 (the Ca. labeling law) also supported SB 104, the bill which gave farm workers more power to organize unions, which by the way, already existed.

So, we know that Big Ag would be against any law that would force them to pay farm workers a livable wage and decent working conditions. The big question is, if organic is so wonderful in all ways, why are so may organic farms against paying farm workers a livable wage and provide decent working conditions? Why don’t they do it on their own? Why do 47% feel strongly that “organic standards should not include labor standards?” Why do over 50% feel that “organic certification should not require growers to provide workers with health insurance, paid sick leave, paid vacation, or the right to unionize?”

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