Peter G. Lurie, MD, MPH

March 25th is the start of National Farmworker Awareness Week. It’s a time to recognize that these essential workers play a critical role in nurturing crops and bringing them safely from field to fork.

It’s also a time to think about the challenges faced by farmworkers, from poor working conditions to child or forced labor to discrimination and retaliation against those who speak up about problems.

Since 2015, Nutrition Action’s publisher, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has been proud to serve on the executive board of the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), a program that certifies fruits and vegetables that have been grown on farms that meet high standards for keeping both food and farmworkers safe.

Most programs that certify food safety on farms rely on third-party audits that can only take a snapshot of conditions on the farm during a brief visit.

Here’s how EFI is different:

Safer food. Farmworkers are often the first to spot problems that can make produce unsafe because they’re in the fields every day.

For example, a worker may see that leftovers from workers’ lunches are attracting wild birds that might carry Salmonella and other pathogens.

Another farmworker may notice that contaminated runoff from a nearby animal farm is flowing into the canals used to irrigate lettuce.

Yet another may recognize that break times aren’t long enough to eat lunch or visit distant bathrooms, which may force workers to cut corners on hygiene.

EFI trains and empowers workers to collaborate to identify problems and suggest solutions. That can lead to safer produce.

Safer workplaces. EFI goes beyond audits to ensure that the workplace is free from child labor, forced labor, discrimination, and retaliation.

For example, EFI has led the way in identifying key warning signs that farms can use to flag human trafficking and other corrupt practices by labor recruiters, because exploited workers are often afraid to speak up.

What can you do to help?

Buy EFI-certified produce. Look for the EFI label, which says “Responsibly Grown. Farmworker Assured.” It shows up on select items at participating Costco and Whole Foods stores.

Every purchase of EFI-labeled produce generates a bonus, paid by the retailer, that goes directly to farmworkers. More than $8.5 million in farmworker bonuses have been paid to workers in the last four years.

EFI’s goal is to bring together produce growers, farmworkers, food retailers, and consumers to transform agriculture. Together, we can create farming environments that lead to a safer food supply chain, safer and more-dignified workplaces, and healthy, high-quality food for all.

So please vote with your wallet whenever you see the EFI label.

Thank you.

Peter G. Lurie, MD, MPH, President

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Photo: Equitable Food Initiative.