Justice on the Table: A Food Label For Justice

by Rebecca Harnik 

The Friedman Justice League takes a look at the new “Food Justice Label,” which may help to increase transparency in the food system. The labeling program certifies businesses and farmers whose practices fulfill extensive social justice criteria.

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The logo from the Agricultural Justice Project.

Since the Food and Drug Administration mandated food labeling two decades ago, many consumers have come to rely on labels to understand their food. Labeling is helpful in many regards – we can easily identify items that are Certified Organic, nut-free, or high-sodium on grocery shelves. But beyond what’s required on food packaging, many important details slip through the cracks. The story behind the food is notably absent, and the rights of growers, producers and distributors are typically invisible to the consumer.

Food workers in our country, particularly immigrant laborers, often receive sub-minimum wages for their work, and many face serious workplace hazards. According to the advocacy nonprofit Farmworker Justice, pesticide poisoning in adults and children leads farmworkers to suffer more chemical-related injuries and illnesses than any other workforce in the nation. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Agricultural Worker Protection Standards work to address pesticide safety issues, but labor advocates and public health officials assert that standards must be strengthened.

A new “Food Justice Label” on the market may help to increase transparency in the system. This first-ever social justice labeling program in North America formally certified two businesses in New York this summer, bringing the program to businesses in the Northeast for the first time.

Championed by the Agricultural Justice Project, the label gives consumers the opportunity to support farms and businesses with fair practices. It also allows farmers, buyers, distributors, processors and retailers to demonstrate their commitment to ethical practices, fair pricing, and living wages.

What standards does the Food Justice label include?

  • Fair pricing for farmers
  • Fair wages and treatment of workers
  • Safe working conditions
  • Fair and equitable contracts for farmers and buyers
  • Workers’ and farmers’ right to freedom of association and collective bargaining
  • Clear conflict resolution policies for all throughout the food chain
  • Clean and safe farmworker housing
  • Learning contracts for interns and apprentices
  • A ban on full-time child labor, together with full protection for children on farms
  • Environmental stewardship through organic certification

The two newly-certified establishments are GreenStar Natural Foods Co-op and The Piggery Butcher & Local Grocer in New York, which met these rigorous standards for their businesses. Several farms and businesses have already been certified in Canada, Oregon, the Upper Midwest and Florida, according to AJP.

Learn more about the Agricultural Justice Project’s Food Justice Certification.

“Justice on the Table” is a monthly feature written by students in the Friedman Justice League.  

The Friedman Justice League student organization is a means to a more systematic, intentional and sustainable effort at the Friedman School to address issues of diverse representation within the student body, staff and faculty. We also focus on how the Friedman community can better address issues of discrimination and oppression (especially within the food system) in its teachings, research and programs. Join us! Contact FriedmanJusticeLeague@gmail.com for more information.

Rebecca Harnik is a first year student in the Agriculture, Food and Environment program. She is concerned with issues of social equity, community health and ecological sustainability in the food system.

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