Tuesday, October 2, 2007

All is fair in food and drink

Lots of talk about fair trade (lots of posts on this blog too) but D. just sent me this. My comments in italics.

"Rafael de Paiva was skeptical at first. If he wanted a “fair trade” certification for his coffee crop, the Brazilian farmer would have to adhere to a long list of rules on pesticides, farming techniques, recycling and other matters. He even had to show that his children were enrolled in school.

Very often, the conditions for certifications are too difficult and cannot be met by those in need. Farmers would want certification to put their kids in school, so imposing the condition on them before they make enough money to put their kids in school seems a bit odd.

Mr. Paiva’s beans will be in the store-brand coffee sold by Sam’s Club, the warehouse chain of wal mart Stores. Dunkin’ Donuts, Mc Donald's and Starbucks already sell some fair trade coffee.

A common criticism of FT: its use by mega corporations which exploit their own workers as a marketing tool to attract bourgeois liberals in need of conscience whitewash. but another argument goes: Isn't it better to latch on to these corporations as they provide volume of sale that benefit more farmers?

“We see a real momentum now with big companies and institutions switching to fair trade,” said Paul Rice, president and chief executive of TransFair USA, the only independent fair trade certifier in the United States.

What are the other certifiers? dependent? on who? Or is there only one certifier. This is another common complaint: certification has become a business: a cold, calculating business, in which clients are sought, and projections and business figures have to be met. Many farmers cannot afford it.

According to Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, a group of fair trade certifiers, consumers spent approximately $2.2 billion on certified products in 2006, a 42 percent increase over the previous year, benefiting over seven million people in developing countries.

Interesting figure, which I assume is for the US only, but still a long way from the spending on natural foods and nutritional supplement expected to reach $87 billions in 2007. Expected as people are more interested in their own health than in helping others.

Fair trade produce remains a minuscule percentage of world trade, but it is growing. Only 3.3 percent of coffee sold in the United States in 2006 was certified fair trade, but that was more than eight times the level in 2001, according to TransFair USA.

Others argue that fair trade coffee is as exploitive as the conventional kind, especially in countries that produce the highest-quality beans — like Colombia, Ethiopia and Guatemala. Fair trade farmers there are barely paid more than their counterparts in Brazil, though their crops become gourmet brands, selling for a hefty markup, said Geoff Watts, vice president for coffee at Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, a coffee importer."

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