Friday, January 26, 2007

What you eat: What's Fair Trade Certification?

Fair Trade Certified essentially means that the raw material producers are paid a fair wage and workers are treated fairly as they manufacture the garment. A non-profit organization, TransFair USA, one of 19 national certifying groups that operate under the umbrella of the international Fair Trade network, grants Fair Trade status to products sold in the United States. Under Fair Trade rules, only products that are 100 percent Fair Trade Certified can carry the label.

The official Fair Trade movement in the United States is relatively young. The first certified product, coffee, arrived in the United States in 1998. Tea, rice, cocoa, a select number of tropical fruits followed suit. Last year, TransFair added vanilla and three types of tea to the list.

Certified products sold in the U.S. carry a small certification mark, or logo, with a figure, half black, half white, holding two contrasting cups. Lettering in the logo, above the figure, reads Fair Trade Certified.

In the United States, Fair Trade coffee is by far the largest single imported product. To qualify, farmers have to have less than 5 hectares (about 12.3 acres) of land, be organized into a co-operative recognized by the international Fair Trade Labeling Organization and be paid at least $1.26 per pound of coffee from a buyer.

But coffee also is subject to one of the widest ranges of certified and uncertified possibilities.

Starbucks imports more Fair Trade Certified coffee than any roaster in the U.S, according to TransFair figures. The Seattle-based company imported 18 million pounds of the certified coffee in 2006, or about 6 percent of its total. Most of the Fair Trade Certified coffee goes into the Starbuck's Cafe Estema brand, but the rest is blended into other Starbucks coffee offerings.

Since only products that are 100 percent Fair Trade Certified can carry the label, Starbucks and other roasters who blend certified coffees with others can't legally use the logo on those mixed blends.

Starbucks also imports a far greater amount of coffee — some 155 million pounds in 2006 — under its own ''independently verified sourcing and purchasing guidelines'' for its C.A.F.E. (Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices) program. The C.A.F.E. coffees represent slightly more than half of all the coffees Starbucks bought in 2006, according to Starbucks figures released this month.

The C.A.F.E. coffees also represent a trend among coffee importers and growers called ''relationship coffee,'' where the grower and roaster form a partnership.

Troy Reynard sells Counter Culture coffee, which is Fair Trade Certified and 'relationship' coffee similar to Fair Trade, at his Cosmic Cup at 520 March St., Easton.

Beyond food: Fair Trade for all

In the United States, a second labeling effort, called Fair Trade Federation, also comes into play, especially on products that fall outside the limited list of certified agricultural products. The tag means a company — but not the labeled product itself — formally endorses the goals of the Fair Trade movement. To be able to use the federation label, a company makes its ways of doing business — how much it pays for its raw materials, how well it treats its workers — transparent.

The tag, a pair of hands on an eye-shaped oval, appears on some clothing at Bethlehem's Clothesline Organics, says co-owner Josh Bushey. Between 10 percent and 15 percent of the clothing at the store carries the tag.

One well-established Fair Trade Organization is 10,000 Villages. The organization works with over 100 artisan groups in more than 30 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to bring handmade jewelry, home decor, gifts and more to the masses. Shoppers can create a registry to incorporate fair trade items for their next wedding, housewarming or special occasion. 10,000 Villages items are available locally at Hackman's Bible Book Store, 1341 Mickley Road, Whitehall or online.

Do you know of any other Fair Trade supporting businesses in the Valley?

What you eat will be an occasional series on the new up and coming food movements.

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