Growing Organic and Growing Pains

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

This week EWG asked our Facebook followers to thank Driscoll’s, the nation’s largest grower of strawberries, for its investment in organic farming to date and commitment to increasing organic production in the future. Some people took us to task, expressing concern over the company’s labor practices and its incomplete use of organic practices during the full growing cycle. 

EWG is fully aware of the labor disputes involving several of Driscoll’s strawberry growers in Washington State and in Mexico, and with Driscoll’s itself, and of the demands of Familias Unidas por la Justica. We’re glad to see so many people weighing in. We share your concern and will share that view with Driscoll’s.

We also firmly believe that growing organic’s share of the food supply and the farm landscape is not just feasible; it is imperative.

It’s a system that must constantly strive for greater rigor in the spirit of organic agriculture (right down to the importance of using organic “starts” in strawberry production many commenters mentioned).

What we don’t want is an organic system that’s the equivalent of private school for food and farming – available only to a privileged few who can find and afford it.

At EWG, we’re convinced that long-term food system reform rests on consumer engagement with the questions of how their food is grown, where, and by whom. This engagement is the seed of long-term food system reform. The most effective way to plant that seed is organic.

For example, how workers are treated and compensated is a matter of pressing and longstanding concern throughout our broken food system, from farm fields to white tablecloth restaurants. The organic sector is no exception, and by no means is the issue limited to Driscoll’s and some of its growers. At less than 1 percent of the farmland and less than 5 percent of retail sales, organic can hardly be the whole solution to these systemic problems, either.

Like water and energy use, land tenure and worker safety, labor practices are among many important issues not considered in organic certification. Which is to say, organic is by no means a perfect embodiment of sustainability.

But organic is easily the best, most scalable food system in place right now. It is no accident that some of the most serious and important discussions about improving farm worker conditions are arising from organic voices—concerned growers, processors and consumers.

Growing organic’s share of the food supply and farm landscape is not just feasible; it is imperative. Because an organic system that remains the equivalent of private school for food will not bring the change we all seek.

In that context, Driscoll’s expansion of organic is impressive, encouraging, and we believe, commendable.

Which is to say, it’s a start—an important piece to a big, complex puzzle.






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