NCL Public Policy Intern Tom Pahl

The complete picture: The need for alcohol labeling

NCL Public Policy Intern Tom PahlBy Tom Pahl, NCL Policy Intern

Tom Pahl is a 2021 graduate of Skidmore College, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science.

Just about every consumable food and drug product has a label with information about the contents—from over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements, sodas, and chips to the candy bars we nab from a convenience store. And consumers rely on these labels to make sound purchasing decisions. Surveys show that about 77 percent of Americans use the standardized Nutrition Facts label required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Yet, there is one type of consumable product where we don’t have this option: alcoholic beverages.

It is not an overstatement to say that alcoholic beverages have been part of human civilization since early humankind. Archeologists trace the first wine drinks to China around 7000 BC. Additionally, beverage alcohol has a fabled history in the United States, underscored by the so-called “noble experiment” called Prohibition from 1920-1933. In fact, Prohibition is the reason that regulation of most alcoholic beverages—including content labeling—is the responsibility of the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

Yet, the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, passed in 1935, created an exception to the rule. When alcoholic beverages contain more than 7 percent alcohol by volume, a standard measure known as ABV, TTB requires alcohol labeling. However, below 7 percent ABV, alcohol labeling falls under the purview of the FDA. This means different requirements for grape wine, sparkling or carbonated wine, fruit wine, saké, wine coolers, cider, and de-alcoholized or partially de-alcoholized wine. The requirements also apply to beers not made from malted barley, but instead malted barley substitutes, or made without hops like kombucha and gluten-free beer.

Why does this matter? Because alcoholic beverages regulated by FDA have the same standardized Nutrition Facts label as a soft drink (along with the ABV). This includes hard ciders and sparking wines that have taken the world by a storm in the past few years. In contrast, TTB allows the manufacturers of all other alcoholic beverages to “decide” whether to include nutritional labeling and, guess what? Surprise, surprise, the vast majority have no nutritional labels. Even more confounding, in any refrigerator, a bottle of beer and a bottle of hard cider made by the same company—to wit, Sam Addams beer and Angry Orchard Cider, made by the Boston Brewing Company—the beer has no nutritional information and the cider is fully labeled, proving that unless companies are required to label, they don’t do it!

It is true that TTB requires beer, spirits and wine makers to put specific information on product labels – including the type of alcohol, the alcohol content (ABV or proof), the net contents of the beverage, the coloring materials used, whether the beverage contains allergens, and the country of origin. As important as they are, these facts have nothing to do with health and nutrition and this information is more important than ever before due to the epidemic of obesity in the United States (almost 20 percent of men and 6 percent of women consume more than 300 calories from alcohol per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and higher rates of diet-related diseases.

We know that when required by FDA, alcohol beverage manufacturers have figured out how to put a complete alcohol content label on their products. National Consumers League, along with other consumer organizations and public health groups, will continue to press TTB to issue a final rule requiring a mandatory Alcohol Facts label on all beer, wine and distilled spirits products. In 2021, consumers deserve the kind of robust labeling we see on other foods and which consumers understand, use, and need to make informed buying choices.

Food insecurity among African and Hispanic American communities in America

By Nailah John, Program Associate

Millions of Americans struggle with food insecurity—defined as limited or uncertain access to sufficient, nutritious food. People experiencing severe food insecurity skip meals or go hungry because they lack financial resources to purchase food. Food insecurity is associated with harmful consequences to physical and mental health, along with adverse behavioral and academic outcomes.

With millions of Americans out of work since mid-March 2020 due to COVID-19, low-income families and communities of color, who were already at risk for food insecurity, face even greater hardship. In March and April 2020, 48 percent of African American households and 52 percent of Hispanic households experienced food insecurity, according to data published in the American Journal of Public Health. Over many decades, discriminatory policies and practices have caused African American communities to be more likely to live in poverty, face unemployment, and have fewer financial resources, like savings or property, than their white counterparts.

Food deserts, which are common in low-income areas, have contributed to the crisis of food insecurity. Food deserts are regions where people have limited access to healthy and affordable food. In these areas, people’s nutritional options are often limited to cheaper, high-calorie, and less nutritious food. In eight of the 10 counties in the U.S. with the highest food insecurity rates, more than 60 percent of the residents are African American. Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Nutrition at Northern Illinois University, Odoms-Young, said “it is really not surprising when you consider the drivers of food insecurity: income, employment. It is also an accumulation of disadvantages that happens. I don’t think people always recognize that accumulation—how disadvantages can accumulate over generations and cause those disparities in wealth.”

African American and Hispanic American populations are disproportionately enrolled in the government Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This benefits over 35 million Americans. The Biden Administration recently allocated $1 billion to the SNAP benefits distributed each month, which will increase the food stamp benefits of approximately 25 million people. Food insecurity, unfortunately, continues to be a major problem in America, exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic, from the lack of access to reduced-cost school meals to high rates of unemployment.

Access to nutritious food is essential to creating a more healthy, sustainable, and productive society. It is, therefore, crucial that we continue to advocate for African American and Hispanic communities, which are most at risk for food insecurity.

National Consumers League releases its top 10 food and nutrition policy priorities for 2021

March 23, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org(412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org(202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—As the food and nutrition policy debate ramps up at the federal level, the National Consumers League (NCL) today released a 10-step action plan to address the explosion of food-related diseases in the United States and the unprecedented hunger and food safety challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Announced at a time when policymakers must confront a series of crises affecting the health and nutritional status of the American public, NCL’s action plan focuses on implementing policies that will improve food safety, reduce food insecurity, and address food waste while also removing the pervasive roadblocks that keep consumers from making more informed food and beverage choices. Due to these barriers, research studies show that Americans, on average, consume 50 percent more sodium per day than health experts recommend, more than 80 percent have dietary patterns that are low in vegetables, fruit and dairy, and only 23 percent consume amounts of saturated fat consistent with the limit of less than 10 percent of calories.[i]

“Effective policies are necessary to overcome the fragmented food supply chains, child hunger, food waste, and food safety challenges caused or amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic,”said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s Executive Director. “At the same time, the threat of food-related disease requires the sustained attention of the advocacy community. This is why NCL will intensify its education and advocacy in 2021 to advance healthier eating, improve food safety, reduce food insecurity, and elevate food waste as a consumer issue.”

Serving as the consumer voice in championing policy solutions that will have a direct impact on the American public, NCL will focus its efforts these ten priorities:

  1. Elevate portion control and balance as a consumer issue

NCL will advance the recommendations contained in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to achieve a healthy balance of food choices through education and advocacy that emphasizes portion control and ensures consumers know the recommended daily intake of calories is 2,000 per day.

  1. Reduce excess sodium in the diet

Because excess sodium in the diet can raise blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, NCL will encourage consumers to flavor foods with herbs and spices and choose products with reduced or no salt added, thereby advancing the goal set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lower sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day.

  1. Improve the labeling of alternative sweeteners

NCL is supporting a Citizen’s Petition to FDA to ensure transparent labeling of novel sweeteners and has joined with other consumer groups in urging FDA to stop misleading claims, such as “No Added Sugars,” “Zero Sugar,” and “Reduced Sugars,” that imply a new product is healthier than the original without disclosing that the sugar reduction resulted from reformulation with artificial substances and sugar alcohols.

  1. Make Alcohol Facts labeling mandatory

Continuing a fight launched in 2003, NCL and other consumer, public health, medical, and nutrition organizations will urge the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade (TTB) to issue rules requiring an easy-to-read, standardized “Alcohol Facts” label that lists the ingredients in all beer, wine, and distilled spirits products. Currently, TTB has opted for voluntary labeling, and the result is that many products remain unlabeled or carry incomplete labeling information.

  1. Require labeling of caffeine content

Because FDA only requires that food labels disclose there is added caffeine in a food or beverage, NCL will press the agency to require that all products containing caffeine be required to list the amount per serving and per container. This will make it easier for consumers to know how much caffeine they are consuming from different products so they can stay below the 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day level that FDA has determined is not generally associated with dangerous side effects.

  1. Modernize food standards of identity

Because many “standards of identity” — recipes for what a food product must contain and how it is manufactured — are now 75 and even 80 years old and out-of-date, NCL supports FDA’s action plan to modernize food standards of identity. NCL is also calling attention to several food products — such as olive oil, Greek yogurt, and canned tuna — where issuing new or updated standards of identity are needed now.

  1. Revise the definition of the term “Healthy” and front of pack food labeling symbols

While supporting FDA’s decision on modifying how “low fat” will be calculated as part of the agency’s criteria for when a food can be labeled as “healthy,” NCL will press FDA to address if and how added sugars content is calculated. NCL will also encourage FDA to adopt a “Traffic Light” labeling system to depict “healthy” on the front of the package.

  1. Strengthen the food safety system

NCL will work to make improvements in the nation’s food safety system, including pressing to expand pathogen testing in meat and poultry products and to finalize FDA’s Food Traceability Proposed Rule, which would establish a standardized approach to traceability record-keeping.

  1. Reduce the amount of food waste

Every year, about 90 billion pounds of food goes uneaten in the United States, with huge environmental and food insecurity consequences.  To change this food waste crisis, NCL will raise awareness of food loss and waste and inform consumers about how they can reduce food waste in their homes and when they go out to eat.

10. Increase funding and access to federal nutrition programs

NCL will work to make permanent the 15 percent Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit increase now included in the American Relief Plan, while also pressing for additional funding for the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.
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Is it a meat product or not?

By Nailah John, Program Associate

My husband has a great desire for meatless products, so on my weekly grocery shopping visits, I find myself standing in the freezer aisle for minutes reading the confusing labels on these meatless products. Many of the labels illustrated on the front of the packages usually have an image of a burger or chicken nuggets and can be difficult to distinguish between actually meat products. The packaging displays verbiage like Chik, Steaklet, Well Carved, Chick N’Mix, and are placed in areas where grocery shoppers purchase regular meat products, which makes it all the easier for consumers to mistakenly purchase meatless products.

Plant-based burgers and faux-chicken nuggets are the new trend and many consumers either want to try it or have fallen in love with the product. According to a poll done by Gallup in 2020, 41 percent of adults in the U.S. have tried a plant-based meat product. The study illustrated that about half of Americans are familiar with a plant-based product. The overall takeaway? Plant-based products are in fact getting pretty big so their popularity is growing. Many consumers of plant-based products have expressed that they are cutting back on their meat consumption. Health, the environment, and animal welfare are all cited as major reasons why. With more and more Americans trying these plant-based products labeling should be precise, not misleading.

Many industry leaders continue to recommend that these products should not use wording like “vegan” or “vegetarian” because it may turn away potential customers. It is also suggested that putting meat-free options in a separate vegetarian section of the menu or in the vegetarian section of a grocery store could reduce sales. The term plant-based has been the alternative to the word vegan which is more appealing to the consumers.

However lucrative marketing buzz words may be, the wording and imaging for products should reflect what the consumer is purchasing. This wordplay and product placement tactics are being used to bamboozle consumers.

We all have a right to know what is in our food, how it is produced, and where it is from. We also have the right as consumers to demand clear labeling. It’s challenging to stand in a grocery store for 5 to 10 minutes just trying to be sure that the plant-based product we’re looking to buy is actually plant-based. The labels and imagery do not reflect this by showing chicken-like nuggets, burgers, meatballs, and other imagery that sends a false message to our minds. As a consumer, I no longer want to be confused. I want to be able to easily differentiate between real meat and plant-based meat products.

Does your baby’s food contain toxic metals?

By Nailah John, Program Associate

As a mother, I once fed my baby with baby food only to later be told that some baby foods contain toxic metals at levels that exceed what experts and governing bodies say are safe. Congressional investigators have found dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals in many popular baby food brands. The World Health Organization says that the top 10 chemicals of concern for infants and children include arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.  This exposure to heavy metals in childhood is linked to permanent dips in IQ, an increased risk of future criminal activity, and damaged long-term brain function.

Some pediatricians and children’s health experts say that heavy metals are found in soil and contaminate crops grown in it. Heavy metals can also get into food during manufacturing and packaging processes. However, the amount that is allowed in baby food products exceeds the limit. The nonprofit Healthy Babies led a national investigation and found that 95 percent of baby foods tested contain toxic chemicals. Fifteen foods accounted for half the risk, with rice-based foods at the top. Making these food and lifestyle changes can help reduce toxic metal residue:

  • Choose rice-free snacks over rice-based ones. Try a frozen banana or a chilled cucumber instead of rice-based teething biscuits.
  • Opt for oatmeal over rice cereal.
  • Give tap water over fruit juice.
  • Rather than sticking strictly to baby food made from sweet potatoes and carrots (which contain higher levels of metals), opt for baby food made from other fruits and vegetables.
  • Make your own baby food by buying, washing, and blending your own fruits and vegetables.
  • Don’t get stuck in the baby food phase. Baby food is meant to be transitional, used only for a few months. Introduce your babies to sources of protein like fish—salmon, tuna, cod, whitefish, and pollock.
  • Visit the pediatrician often in the first two years of your child’s life. This can help to identify any developmental problems.
  • Limit heavy metal exposure in other ways. Heavy metals are also found in peeling or chipping paint in older homes built before 1978.
  • Don’t smoke or vape as secondhand and even thirdhand smoke (or residue from smoking on furniture or clothes) may expose children to metals like cadmium and lead.

While individuals can do their part, the most significant changes will have to come through enforced legislation and stronger regulations on baby food. According to the recent congressional report, toxic metals in tested baby food eclipse safe levels, “including results up to 91 times the arsenic level, up to 177 times the lead level, up to 69 times the cadmium level, and up to 5 times the mercury level.” The report recommended that the Food and Drug Administration require baby food manufacturers to test their finished products for toxic heavy metals and label products that contain them. One of the most powerful ways of creating change is by calling your Member of Congress and urging them to use their voice to address the issue of heavy toxic metals in baby foods. As a mother, I plan to do so and so should you.

The evolution of American alcohol policy — and what’s next

By Nailah John, Program Associate

Alcohol is consumed by billions of consumers the world over. Humans drink alcohol for many reasons, including enjoying the taste or coping with stress while others consume alcohol because of social influences. More than 85 percent of people around the world consume alcohol. America’s alcohol policy has seen many ups and downs over many decades from prohibition in the 1920s to the end of prohibition in 1933, National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1988, the Alcohol Beverage Labeling Act 1988 (ABLA), and the continued efforts for a “Nutritional Facts Label” on all alcoholic beverages by consumer advocacy groups.

Every other consumable product on the supermarket shelves is required to have a Nutritional Facts Label. That label has a list of required information about a food’s nutrient content, such as the calories, protein, vitamins, fat, sugar, sodium, and fiber. This is critically important consumer information for guiding healthy choices.

After Prohibition In 1935, the Federal Alcohol Administration governed alcohol regulation. In 2003, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) was formed, and alcohol continued to be regulated by this federal agency. Since the 1970s, consumer advocacy groups have worked for a comprehensive label on all alcoholic products. In 2003, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the National Consumers League made a hard push for a nutritional facts label. Manufacturers asked for voluntary labels, making the argument that putting nutrition facts on all bottled of alcohol would make consumers think that alcohol was nutritious. In 2004, TTB sided with manufacturers and issued guidelines that allowed them to list calories, carbs, protein, and fat­—but only if they wished to do so voluntarily. In 2021, NCL and other groups are recommitting ourselves to this consumer information campaign.

The Dietary Guidelines 2020-2025 lay out the existing recommendations for sugar and alcohol, which recommend moderate alcohol consumption––up to one alcoholic drink per day for women and up to two per day for men. The CDC warns that alcohol consumption is associated with a variety of short and long-term health risks: high blood pressure, various cancers, motor vehicle accidents, violence, and sexually risky behavior. The CDC guidelines also note that pregnant women should refrain from alcohol consumption and that those with certain condition should avoid alcohol. That is true as well with certain medications.

More than half—55 percent—of Americans say they have had alcohol in the past month. An estimated 14.5 million American adults age 12 and older battled an alcohol use disorder, or 5.3 percent of this population. The bottom line is that if you drink, do so in moderation per the CDC and DGAC guidelines. And join with consumer advocates fighting for a nutritional facts label to be put on all alcoholic beverages.

Is your honey real?

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Honey is one of my favorite sweeteners. And I’m not alone. The global demand for honey is extremely high with the market size value in 2020 at 9.79 billion. But are we buying the authentic thing?

This high demand has resulted in market fraud and adulteration. Insider has stated that honey is the third-most-faked food in the world behind milk and olive oil. Assessing the quality of honey can be difficult because of the production process or adulteration with cane sugar or other ingredients.

In the United States, 400 million pounds of honey ends up in our food every year. Most of it is adulterated product from China. Manufacturers either dilute real honey by adding syrups derived from plants or they chemically modify the sugars in those syrups so they look like real honey. Honey consumers in the U.S., and across the globe, are being duped and need to be made more aware of how to tell if the honey they purchased is real or fake.

Here are several ways to spot fakes:

  1. Crystallization – real honey crystallizes over a period of time once kept in a cool dark place. Adulterated honey will always retain the same consistency.
  2. Water test – drop a teaspoon of honey in water. If the honey is pure, it will not easily mix with water but will become slightly thicker in texture.
  3. Microwave test/heat test – place a bowl of honey in the microwave and heat it for a minute. If it caramelizes, then it is real honey. If it bubbles, it is not.
  4. Paper test – put 2 teaspoons of honey on a plate and put paper on it. If the paper soaks the honey, then it is adulterated.

As the demand for honey increases, one would expect that the price of honey would increase. However, the opposite has occurred since the supply of adulterated honey has increased and driven global honey prices down. This has resulted in beekeepers barely being able to sell their honey for a profit.

Another major issue that adulterated honey causes is the threat to pollination and our food systems. Vice highlights that bees help produce 90 commercially-grown crops in the U.S. and have brought in over $24 billion to the economy. Without beekeepers, we would have a failed food system.

Consumers should seek out raw, organic, unadulterated honey that will not have negative impacts on our beekeepers, our crop, and our economy. If you buy a plant-based burger, you would like to know the nutritional value and ingredients of the product and it should be the same for honey or any product that we consume.

I would recommend that each consumer watch the Netflix documentary Rotten. The episode called “Lawyers, Guns and Honey” shows the reasons behind low production of authentic honey and the impact of the dwindling bee population on our environment.

Not so sweet: Child labor in banana production

By Child Labor Coalition intern Ellie Murphy

Americans eat a lot of bananas. The U.S. is the world’s biggest importer of bananas, eating between 28 and 30 bananas per person per year. Worldwide, bananas are the most popular fruit with 100 billion consumed annually. The fruit is nutritious and cheap. Prices generally fluctuate between 30 cents and $1.00 per banana. It’s a great deal for the consumer, but someone is paying a heavy price to produce bananas: exploited farmworkers, including many children.
Stagnating banana prices have put the squeeze on farmers, leading some planters to hire the cheapest workers—children. The work is hard, often dangerous, and not fit for children. Yet they toil in the fields to help their impoverished families.

Countries that use child labor to produce bananas include Ecuador, Belize, Brazil, Nicaragua, and the Philippines, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (USDOL) List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.

Poverty is the main driver of child labor, but children in the developing world face barriers to accessing education that can push them to farm work. Besides the cost of school, uniforms, and books, there are also some countries that don’t have enough schools, classrooms, or teachers. And transportation problems can impact children’s ability to attend school.

Child labor in the banana sector poses significant challenges to children’s health and overall well-being. Child workers employed at these plantations are often forced to handle sharp tools like machetes, carry heavy loads, and face exposure to agrochemicals like pesticides and fungicides without protective clothing or gear. Dizziness, nausea, and negative long-term health conditions can result in child workers, and because child workers often live on banana plantations, escaping these health hazards is nearly impossible.

Let’s take a closer look at Ecuador, the world’s top exporter of bananas.

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released in April 2002 found widespread labor and human rights abuses on Ecuadorian banana plantations. Children as young as eight were found performing hazardous work. “The use of harmful child labor is widespread in Ecuador’s banana sector,” concluded HRW. Report authors interviewed 45 child banana workers and found that 41 began working between eight and 13 with most starting at age 10 or 11. “Their average workday lasted twelve hours, and fewer than 40 percent of the children were still in school by the time they turned fourteen,” noted HRW. According to USDOL, almost half of indigenous children in rural areas do not attend school, “which can make them more vulnerable to child labor.

“In the course of their work, [child banana workers] were exposed to toxic pesticides, used sharp knives and machetes, hauled heavy loads of bananas, drank unsanitary water, and some were sexually harassed,” noted HRW.

Roughly 90 percent of the children HRW interviewed reported that they “continued working while toxic fungicides were sprayed from airplanes flying overhead. In an attempt to avoid harmful chemicals, children interviewed about their experience stated that they used various methods to avoid toxic chemicals: “hiding under banana leaves, bowing their heads, covering their faces with their shirts, covering their noses and mouths with their hands, and placing banana cartons on their heads.”

About one in 20 Ecuadorian children in the 5-14 age group work—and four in five of these child workers toil on farms, according to data from USDOL released in its 2019 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor (2019) report.

Clearly, child labor laws in Ecuador are not being adequately enforced. Alarmingly, according to the USDOL, funding for Ecuador’s labor inspectorate fell dramatically from $1.5 million in 2017 to $265,398 in 2018. During that time the number of inspectors increased from 150 to 249. There is no explanation provided for these conflicting numbers but USDOL did note there were fiscal pressures on the Ecuadorian government.

The 2002 HRW report cited many causes of child labor, including discrimination against unionized adult workers who earn higher wages. As a result, many workers who unionize are fired and replaced with children who earn around $3.50 per day, 60 percent of the minimum wage for banana farmers. “Ecuadorian law fails to protect effectively the right to freedom of association, and employers take advantage of the weak law and even weaker enforcement to impede worker organizing,” noted HRW.

Since the 2002 HRW report, Ecuador has raised the minimum age of employment to 15, banned children from hazardous work, and raised fines for employers hiring children.

In its 2019 child labor Findings report, USDOL noted that “in 2018, Ecuador made a significant advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.” One change involved better protecting unionized employees against discrimination so that children are not targeted for cheap labor. Ecuador has also created more social programs for children susceptible to child labor, including the “Lifetime Plan” that provides conditional cash transfers to vulnerable children from birth.

Despite the positive ranking for Ecuador, child labor in the banana sector continues to be prevalent in Ecuador.  Poverty and limited law enforcement make child labor an unfortunate reality for families.

Banana exporting companies often fail to address adequately child labor and hazardous working conditions in their supply chains. The big players –Dole, Del Monte, and Chiquita Fyffes—need to do more if we are to end child labor in banana production. Dole claims to prohibit child labor stating that “[it prohibits] any people younger than 18 from being hired or employed in any form.” Yet, child labor in the sector flourishes in at least five of the major exporting countries, according to USDOL.

In its Findings report, USDOL makes a number of recommendations to help reduce child labor in Ecuador, including a call for a new national child labor survey, added funding to hire more labor inspectors, and social programs in rural farm areas and informal sectors. USDOL also suggests “removing school-related fees, increasing classroom space, and providing adequate transportation.” These modifications will specifically help children living in rural areas such as migrant children and indigenous children stay in school.

Concerted efforts by the Ecuadorian government and multinational banana exporters are needed if child labor is to be reduced.

Consumers have a part to play in the solution as well. The Food Empowerment Project advises consumers to buy bananas produced with less exploitation. They recommend buying from Equal Exchange. Bananas from small farmer-owned cooperatives are available in some parts of the United States. Look for bananas from Coliman, Earth University, and Organics Unlimited/Grow. “If your grocery stores do not carry these brands of bananas, we encourage you to ask them to,” says the Food Empowerment Project.

Consumers should make their voices heard: the sweetest banana is a child-labor-free banana.

Ellie Murphy is a rising junior at Tufts University, majoring in International Relations and Sociology.

The unsavory side of ‘Food with integrity’

After dozens of outbreaks of foodborne illness over the past four years, Chipotle gave lip service about reforms in their work practices, but the fast-casual restaurant has continued to engage in management practices that lead to abuses of workers that may create food safety risks for consumers. This was the message of a report jointly released by NCL and SEIU 32BJ in February, “The Unsavory Side of ‘Food with Integrity.’”

“The findings of this report call into question the effectiveness of measures that Chipotle put in place to solve their food safety crises of a few years ago,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL executive director. “If Chipotle executive management and the Food Safety Advisory Council are responsible for making sure that this program is implemented effectively to keep the public safe, they have been asleep at the wheel.”

Employees interviewed for the study reported extreme management pressure that led to:
workers being pressured to work while sick; undercooked chicken being served to customers by under-trained grill cooks; and workers being unable to take breaks to wash their hands for hours on end.

In April, NCL welcomed the news that the Department of Justice had imposed on the company the largest criminal fine ever for a food safety case but said the company needs to take additional action and reforms to address the core issues that are driving worker abuses and violations of food safety protocols.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has sickened many people across the United States, essential workers like those at Chipotle and other chains have risked their health and their lives to provide food to their communities. These workers say that long-standing issues at Chipotle are putting them at risk.

“I am glad that the Justice Department has held Chipotle accountable for their actions that have put people at risk,” said Luis Torres, a worker at a Chipotle store in Manhattan. “But even as recent as the beginning of March we had to walk off the job together to fight back against managers pressuring crewmembers to work sick while the Coronavirus crisis was escalating. We’re pressured to make the food faster and aren’t always allowed to take the proper safety precautions. We are speaking out because we just want to stay safe and keep our customers safe.”

The government’s announcement resonates with the report’s findings, including managers pressuring workers to work sick and violations of food safety protocol and Chipotle’s own policies. For example, many workers reported manager pressure not to wash their hands during rush periods so as not to slow the line.

The report also called attention to the ineffective food safety audits, which now must be improved per the deferred prosecution agreement. The food safety audits and Chipotle’s paid sick day policy were part of a set of reforms put in place in 2016 to win back the trust of Chipotle customers following earlier illness outbreaks at Chipotle but according to workers, audits only happen quarterly, meaning that once a store is audited, the manager knows they won’t get audited again until the next quarter.

“We applaud the work of US Attorney’s Office for working with the FDA and for holding Chipotle accountable with a substantial fine,” said Greenberg. “This should be a wake-up call for Chipotle. For years, its management incentive practices have put profits first, endangering the safety and health of customers and workers repeatedly. Now more than ever when food safety is so critical, Chipotle needs a massive overhaul of its management and business practices to put consumer and worker safety first.”

Measures restaurants are taking during the pandemic to reopen

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

As restaurants open across America, we all want to know what the ideal measures are to keep consumers safe. A few days ago, I went to a french restaurant in Old Town, Alexandria for brunch with my family. We weren’t allowed inside, but a hostess stood at the door with the names of customers waiting to be seated. We all practiced social distancing, every customer wore masks, and every restaurant staff member wore gloves.

We were eventually seated on the patio—six-feet apart—and a mobile menu was circulated to avoid person-to-person contact. My brunch experience during COVID-19 is similar to what states around the country are requiring as restaurants reopen.

According to Eater, all 44 states have allowed restaurants to reopen in some capacity. In each state, varying degrees of social distancing measures remain in place for businesses that want to reopen.

Forbes highlights what health experts say about reopening while also maintaining a safe environment for staff and patrons, including:

  • Implement shifts for employees and stick to them. This helps to make exposure clear and limited in case a staff member test positive for COVID-19;
  • place hand sanitizer on each table, at all entrances and exits, and in bathrooms;
  • regular disinfection of high touch surfaces is needed;
  • provide disposable menus or an online menu, touchless ordering through a mobile, app, text, or phone call;
  • and require all customers and employees to wear masks while waiting to be seated and when going to the restroom.

And here are other measures that restaurant industry experts recommend:

  • Implement available screening measures for employees before they start their shift, check their temperatures. If someone has a fever, send them home.
  • Train and communicate new protocols with your employees, it’s important they are briefed on new protocols or there would be a bit of chaos.
  • Buffets and salad bars should use sneeze guards- glass or plastic barriers that shield food- and utensils should be changed and washed frequently.
  • Install plexiglass dividers between booths and hostess stands.
  • Customers should make reservations as many restaurants have stopped serving walk-in customers.
  • Avoid reusable condiments on tables or self-serve stations and instead switch to single-serve packets for items like ketchup.

Restaurants are reopening and we are all eager to head out and socialize with friends and family, but it is paramount that we all adhere to safety protocols put in place by trusted experts to continue to not risk exposure to COVID-19. Please consumers, wear your mask, wash your hands, practice six-foot social distancing, and sanitize your hands. With your efforts, we can help to flatten the curve.