The Agricultural Justice Project

Since the advent of the USDA’s Organic Production Act of 1990, organic production has doubled in the United States with increased consumer demand for organic products. Ecological and health conscious consumers constitute the backbone for organic consumption yet many remain unaware of certain organic practices that the USDA chose to omit from the requirements stipulated in the 1990 Act. Under the USDA’s national regulatory program, organic agriculture is defined as an ecological production system, established “to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve bio- diversity”. Unfortunately, this definition fails to address the fair labor practices originally included in IFOAMs’, or the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, standards. Although IFOAM and the general organic movement address both human and ecological rights, the USDA only requires the protection of the ecological.

Now, organization’s around the United States are trying to develop new standards and certifying bodies that include farmworker, farmer and consumer rights. In 1999, one organization called the Agricultural Justice Project set out to define standards for organic production that could be adapted anywhere in the world. In comparison to the USDA, the AJP’s definition of organic/sustainable agricultural includes “a commitment to social justice and social and ecological responsibility”.

After drafting standards regarding agricultural and labor practices, the AJP developed pilot projects for application, certification and verification projects to test the standards against the reality of farms and food businesses. From these experiences and general discussion with other organizatons, the AJP revised their standards to include food processing, distribution and retail; a balance between universal and regional diversity; and indigenous rights.

General social justice topics and standards covered by the AJP include:

  • farmer and all food system workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining
  • fair, living wages and benefits for workers
  • prices that cover cost of production, fair return on farmer’s investment and a living wage for the farmer
  • fair, equitable, and transparent contracts between farmers and buyers
  • clear negotiation and conflict resolution policies for farmers, workers and buyers
  • buyers right to transparency of farmers costs of production for purpose of determining fair prices
  • the rights of indigenous people
  • workplace health and safety, including access to adequate medical care and a “right to know” clause regarding use of potential toxins, with the expectation that the least toxic alternative is always used.
  • safe and adequate farmworker housing
  • high quality training for farm interns and apprentices who receive fair stipend that covers living costs
  • the rights and protection of children on farms

A full list of their standards can be found at http://www.agriculturaljusticeproject.org/AJPStandardsJuly2010Final.pdf

If you would like to learn more about the Agricultural Justice Project and its accomplishments, future aspirations, and current progress, please visit http://www.agriculturaljusticeproject.org/index.html.

The AJP is also featured in the documentary film Fair Food: Field to Table at http://www.fairfoodproject.org/main/

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