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On the Importance of Domestic Fair Trade Principles

At your local health food store, you can find fair trade products such as chocolate, coffee, and fruits. International fair trade in these commodities has been invaluable in building strong and prospering communities where workers are treated with dignity and respect, and are paid a fair wage that allows them to raise families in a safe and healthy environment. Consumers across the world are embracing fair trade products—in 2005 alone, retail values for fair trade products globally were $1.5 billion.

But fair trade principles should not be limited to products bought overseas. Small family farms in America that are raising livestock are similarly struggling to get fair prices and to gain access to markets. It’s clear that fair trade principles are not embraced by many large organic brands that look for the cheapest ingredients they can find—which often means depending on US factory farms or overseas agribusinesses. That explains why organic foods are more popular than ever, yet the amount of American farm acreage converting to organic is stagnating.

A set of domestic fair trade principles that guides the relationships that organic concerns have with the farms and other businesses with which they work is critical to American farmers. Wholesome Harvest, an organic meat company with a network of small organic farms and family-owned processors, brought in consultants to survey international fair-trade standards. The results have inspired a set of domestic fair trade principles that are the cornerstone of Wholesome Harvest’s business. Here’s what domestic fair trade has to offer.

· Fair trade means fair prices. Our prices are set at meetings with Wholesome Harvest farmers where cost-of-production data establishes a “true cost” of products and thus honors the value of a farmer’s labor.

· A loyal and transparent value chain is created when all partners have shared values, which includes free sharing of information among partners and a commitment to fair and mutually agreed upon prices.

· Because Wholesome Harvest recognizes the importance of farmers as active and empowered players in the food system, we are committed to farmer ownership of the company, and a majority representation of farmers on the board of directors.

· Wholesome Harvest farms are family owned and managed, and animals sold to Wholesome Harvest are raised entirely within the United States.

· Beyond Organic stewardship practices deliver the highest standards of natural resource conservation practices. Wholesome Harvest voluntarily exceeds USDA organic standards so that, for example, no industrial-style confinement or feedlot buildings are used—even when USDA organics loopholes allow them.

· Collaboration with competitors creates research and development projects that benefit producers and consumers alike.

· Wholesome Harvest supports rural communities by donating five percent of our profits to charitable organizations that fight hunger and environmental depredation and encourage sustainable agricultural practices.

· Commitment to safe working conditions, paying a livable wage and other benefits, a firm antidiscrimination policy, and a requirement that any outside laborers are fairly treated.

Domestic fair trade principles that reward organic farming practices are a boon even to those who don’t eat meat, because every one of us pays a high price for the destructive practices used by factory farms. At least 80 percent of the row crops grown in the US is not organic and is grown for livestock feed. The pesticides and chemicals sprayed on those crops, and the hormones and antibiotics given to livestock, leach into our drinking water and run off into our rivers. The result is the destruction of fish, birds, and ocean mammals, as well as the contamination of water and shellfish that endangers our citizens. Next time you’re visiting the beach and the water is off-limits to swimmers because it’s dangerous, remember that meat raised in factory farms contributed to the problem.

When consumers demand domestic fair trade principles, more US acreage will be converted to organic farming. If these principles guided every American business, then American citizens would be the richer. That makes good environmental sense whether you eat meat or not.