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The Ugly Truth Behind Organic Food

The organic labeling standards do nothing to denote how farms treat their workers. Is your organic food a humanitarian nightmare?

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"Consumers' demand for cheap food limits the ability to pay true wages," he says.

Working within these confines, however, Cook believes the union contract offers benefits that help to make the farm more sustainable ... a step beyond organic.

A stark contrast is Driscoll's Berries, a privately held company that is one of the biggest growers of organic and conventional berries in the world. The company has thousands of acres stretching across California and into Mexico.

It employs 5,000 people to pick its berries, which accounts for a quarter of California's strawberry workers. Its sales total 50 percent of all the state's berry sales, and its products can be found on five continents. None of its workers are unionized.

Organic farmer and activist Elizabeth Henderson says that unionization on large farms is totally appropriate.

"If Tanimura and Antle were forced to pay union wages, it would raise the price of food and be good for small farmers, who could then raise their prices, too," she says. She is backing a Domestic Fair Trade label that, through a certified system, would help make consumers aware of small farms with good labor standards..

"Unless the farm is unionized, workers are almost universally exposed and vulnerable, whether or not the work conditions at any given time are abusive with zero legal support for farmworkers," says Ryan Zinn of the Organic Consumers Association.

"The greatest irony is that the people who pick your food to eat don't have enough to eat," says Hershenbaum, quoting his mentor, Chavez. Not all growers are as bold as Swanton Berry. But as conscious consumers we can demand that more farms follow their lead.

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