Recognizing Workers in the Food System panel at #FoodTankSummit

Moderator: Diane Brady, Bloomberg, @dianebrady, @Bloomberg

Baldemar Velasquez, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, @SupportFLOC

Jose Oliva, Food Chain Workers Alliance, @foodandlabor, @foodchainworker

Melissa Perry, The George Washington University (GWU), @GWTweets

Mia Dell, United Food and Commercial Workers, @UFCW

Jeremiah Lowery, ROC United DC, @jeremiahlowery1, @ROCDC

Patty Lovera, Food & Water Watch, @foodandwater

Great panel at The Food Tank Summit held in DC and via live stream. The day started with Saru Jayaraman, Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United (“Is it corporations or is it people?), and then Liz Shuler, National AFL-CIO (there should be “no separation between good food and good jobs) both who gave great 10-minute speeches on the need for food system organizers to join with the worker rights movements in the food industry. Notes below

Berry pickers story to begin the panel from Baldemar Velasquez:
6 am without breakfast mosquitos everywhere, swamp-like conditions and within 15 minutes, you are soaked up to your knees with bites everywhere. Being told “faster faster” by crew leaders constantly.
That berry you have in your hand (or fridge) connects you to that worker.

Jose Oliva:
Grow more of of our own food-great. But we can’t grow it all, the global food system is not going to go away by wishing it away. We do need to build a system to grow more of our own food, but we need to address the corporations that are making the exploitation of human beings and destroying the environment. Food system is addressing the issues of health and environment, but what about the labor? That is why Food Chain Workers Alliance was begun.
They have a certification initiative: HEAL Health Environment Agriculture And Labor

Melissa Perry:
Many years studying the effects of pesticides on farm labor, started with Vermont farmers. Data exists mostly on small family farms, since farmworkers are not studied very often. Meatpacking can be changed to much safer; it just needs the will, attention and funding.

Mia Dell
Represent 1.3 million workers
Had been a bit cynical about how rarely meat production worker safety is on the minds of local food advocates or farm advocates. Has since seen advocates rising up for worker safety around line speed waiver for poultry inspection.

Jeremiah Lowery
Be aware: Cafeteria workers being laid off on this campus by their corporate company
Building a massive movement in DC. Anti-GMO marches are going on yet they have not contacted worker movement organizers in DC. Let’s engage across silos.

Patty Lovera
Not representing workers, but we are in that coalition of poultry inspection rule change that Mia talked about. Making a ruckus about that issue did make a difference.
Lobbyists are writing the rules-don’t give more opportunity for these big players to get bigger. Merger Monday: seemed every Monday food companies announced merger which reduces choice and they control more of the decision making.
Fight trade agreements-we can make a difference in our local and state governments-Deregulation means companies that we can’t reach, attacking US rules on workers rights and health regulations.

(Panelists) What should we do?

•Work together on supply chain agreements (tomato campaign at Campbell Soup)
•Tobacco (and other specialty crops) workers in North Carolina-40,000 workers are fighting for right to organize.FLOC website
•Collective bargaining agreements are not just about conditions and wages; its an opening for all of us to have better food.
•Work on procurement policies everywhere. Los Angeles using HEAL metrics. Chicago and NYC are working on that, other cities are talking about this idea.
•Fund public health research along with worker health and safety research.
•Make it less convenient for consumers to ignore chemicals in food and gaps in worker safety.
•Know about products that are produced by prisoners and child slave labor: asian shrimp, cashews are two examples of use of slaves and prisoners for production- we know what products are produced this way, let’s share that.
•Cities need funding for more food policy councils which then need a component on labor, homeless, women’s rights etc.
•Diners Guides-ROC has one (print or app) to let consumers know which restaurants treat their workers well.
•We’re doing it wrong at the government level-The effects of the food companies are not being studied and laws on the books enforced well or at all. Telling the Walmarts of the world-“You’re too damn big”
Consumers cannot be the enforcer of the laws- we’re lied to too often.
Q&A piece (these are some of the answers from panel, questions not recorded)
•Lots of reports that show that higher wages will not result in higher food prices. Check out one: Dime a Day-Food service study on minimum wage and others.
•Protein consumption reports show that protein consumption has leveled out. So can we start to make changes to make that protein safer?
•We can find other ways to get protein besides meat (as it is not the best way for humans to get protein)
•Pesticides may be sprayed at lower levels on GMO crops which may protect farmworkers- but the pesticide is inserted into the seed itself which means comparable issues in eater’s health and the environment.
•Regulatory framework is controlled by the GMO companies that sell the product. Remember, biotech companies started as pesticide companies-the regulatory world is not equipped to handle current or rising scientific claims.
EFI Equitable Food Initiative-migrant workers and consumer protection joining to certify labor intensive products. Costco is signing on to this certification, still in pilot stage.

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