Fair Trade Food Shopping

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on December 15, 2009 · 0 comments

October is Fair Trade Month, a time when we should be thinking more about the products we buy. A recent survey showed that while 70% of shoppers are familiar with the term Fair Trade, they are confused about what it means — and why they should choose these products over other brands.

Fair Trade agricultural products include coffee, tea, herbs, cocoa, chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice, flowers, honey and vanilla. They can be purchased at more than 35,000 retailers in the US.

When a product carries a Fair Trade Certified label, it provides you with certain assurances that may be important in your shopping decisions. Fair Trade certification, which benefits over 1 million small and marginalized farmers and farm workers in 58 developing countries, assures farmers a fair price and workers a fair wage for their products. But, it goes further than that.

The Fair Trade initiative allows groups of farmers to band together and compete in a global marketplace. It guarantees minimum prices so the farmer can make a living, pay his workers decently, and invest in farms and communities while at the same time protecting the environment.

For products to be certified, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) cannot be used and environmentally sustainable farming methods are required. Fair Trade does not guarantee that products are grown organically, but more than 60% of all Fair Trade products are certified organic.

TransFair USA, a non-profit organization, is the only Fair Trade certifier in the US. It licenses the Fair Trade Certified label for agricultural products that meet international standards. TransFair USA is part of the umbrella organization FairTrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), which oversees and certifies producer groups in more than 50 countries.

When you see the Fair Trade certification label on a product at Costco, Kroger, Sam’s Club, Target, Trader Joe’s, Wal-Mart or Whole Foods Market you know that a democratically organized farmer group is behind the item. The workers are provided with decent working conditions and wages. No forced child labor has been used. Whenever possible, unnecessary middlemen have been eliminated from the supply chain, which means more profits for the farmers. Some of the revenue earned will go to local community projects such as schools and health care initiatives. And, the environment is being protected for future generations through the use of sustainable farming techniques.

Many restaurant groups are purchasing Fair Trade foods. Starbucks is the most publicized but Ben & Jerry’s, Caribou Coffee, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Seattle’s Best also offer Fair Trade foods.

The higher price on some Fair Trade brands is a major barrier for some shoppers. But, even at premium prices almost half of all Americans have purchased a Fair Trade product. They say their main reasons are the desire to help others and the excellent quality of the brand. As Fair Trade products become more widely available, prices will come down.

To learn more, go to: www.transfairusa.org

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc., December 2009

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