December 12, 2016

399 Cheap Food and Fair Trade [12 Dec 2016]

Last week I discussed examples of food fraud from the 2016 book “Sorting the Beef from the Bull – the Science of Food Fraud Forensics” by Richard Evershed and Nicola Temple. One of the factors leading to food fraud is the modern consumer’s unrealistic (the authors called it “delusional”) expectations of what food should cost.

The average American family spent 43% of their income on food in 1900 but a mere 13% in 2013. Most of this decrease in relative food cost can be attributed to the efficiency of conventional food systems (particularly for packaged processed foods). Consumer demand for the cheapest food puts pressure on the retailers, distributors, processors, and ultimately the producers to cut corners wherever possible, sometimes leading to food fraud. In the book’s Foreword, Prof. Chris Elliott of the U. Belfast reported “…a number of food-business operators have told me their biggest dilemma is to decide if they should cheat in the same way as their competitors, or go out of business.”

This effect of underpaying producers and other food-business workers is more serious in undeveloped (usually tropical or sub-tropical) countries where there are fewer options for work, no unions to negotiate for them, and no social safety nets to feed their families while unemployed. One answer to this problem is the fair trade movement.

Fair Trade can be simply defined as “trade in which fair prices are paid to producers in developing countries”. Production is free of forced labor, child labor, and unsafe working conditions. Crops are raised through sustainable methods. A floor price is established to protect small producers from market fluctuations. Small independent producers may join together to form co-operatives. To prevent fraudulent claims, fair trade certifiers ensure that standards are met and labeling is accurate. Foods commonly produced with free trade include: handicrafts, cotton, coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, coconut oil, bananas and flowers.

Learn more about fair trade at And look for the fair trade symbol on items in your grocery store (if you don’t see any ask the manager). Yes these products will cost more. Yet it’s a small price to pay to share a little of the privilege we enjoy in this country with the workers that produce the food we eat.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

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