Barry Bedwell, California Grape & Tree Fruit LeagueRecently I received a phone call from one of our members who had been contacted by a demand-side partner requesting that their packing and shipping company become part of the Equitable Food Initiative.
While wanting to be respectful of the retailer’s request, this shipper was clearly concerned after doing some research on EFI that such a program would have unintended consequences and in fact have a negative impact on his sustainability.
I was not familiar with this initiative so I quickly went to their website to learn more about this effort, where I found the challenges, as defined by EFI, simply stated:
1. Retailers and foodservice companies are concerned about food safety and social accountability issues in their supply chains.
2. Growers face labor shortages, audit fatigue and declining share of the food dollar to cover the costs of enhanced safety and social accountability protocols.
OK, so far so good. The aforementioned statements seem reasonable and factual. No problem thus far.
3. Farmworkers still have low wages and dangerous working conditions and are too often left out of the discussions on improving the fresh produce industry.
Uh oh. Now we have hit upon some statements that clearly seem too general and are very much debatable.
In reading further, under the heading of “Labor-Management Collaboration Makes for Better Produce,” EFI proposes three primary areas where employees can take an active role.
These include labor standards, pesticide standards and food safety standards.
Now I am beginning to understand why our member was almost on the verge of a seizure.
EFI goes on to promote a “Leadership Training Program,” which would “assist in the formation of on-farms teams to improve communication and understanding between growers and farmworkers and to continually improve on-farm production processes to meet or exceed standards for EFI certification.”
One of my first thoughts after reading this section was how does another certification process reconcile with the earlier recognition that growers face audit fatigue?
This point alone certainly seems contradictory, but when you combine that with the reality that this concept absolutely ignores the facts in regard to the existing regulatory system as it pertains to labor standards, pesticide standards and food safety, you can’t help but begin to feel that such additional requirements hoisted upon a supplier by a demand-side partner could only lead to duplication, increased costs and invariably less true sustainability.