Is Equitable Food Initiative certifying tainted producers?

Has the UFW’s Equitable Food Initiative been certifying companies responsible for tainted produce that spread disease and is linked to at least one salmonella death in California?

It looks that way.

EFI, chaired by UFW Vice President Erik Nicholson, says it’s all about “food safety.” It has been criticized as acting as a UFW front designed to empower the dying union and inject cash as worker membership continues to fall.

Some think that EFI is all about the money. A Washington-based lobby, EFI ties the UFW with corporate mega-retailers like Costco.

UFW has never complained that EFI-certified produce comes chiefly from farms with no UFW workers (like Houweling’s Tomatoes) and from offshore sources of food like Andrew & Williamson farms where farmworkers are paid far below EFI standards. Indeed, UFW leaders have defined $7.50 a day on offshore farms as a “dignified wage.”

Pick Justice sees EFI as a scam to get non-UFW companies to pay into a UFW front and buy themselves freedom from UFW protests.

EFI gives 8th certification to producer linked to deadly salmonella outbreak

EFI has close relations with a producer linked to 284 people being poisoned in 27 states, and one person being killed by salmonella. More than half of the victims were under age 18.

EFI just gave its 8th certification to Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce for another of its operations in Mexico. “The announcement comes as EFI celebrates its second anniversary as a nonprofit certification and skill-building organization. To receive EFI certification, a farm must meet 311 indicators for labor practices, food safety and pest management under an independent third-party audit,” EFI said in an April 26 news release.

“The announcement comes as EFI celebrates its second anniversary as a nonprofit certification and skill-building organization,” the news release said, meaning that EFI has been certifying farmers since early 2015.

Salmonella-tainted company ‘helped create’ EFI’s standards

“Andrew & Williamson has been a pioneer for improving working conditions, food safety controls and pest management in the produce industry,” EFI executive director Peter O’Driscoll said in the news release. “The entire Andrew & Williamson team has been an amazing partner as they not only helped create our rigorous standards, but shown how they can be implemented across numerous farms and regions.”

Andrew & Williamson tied to salmonella in 27 states

Within EFI’s two years of “food safety” certification, Andrew & Williamson was implicated in a 27-state salmonella outbreak that sickened 284 people and killed one.

“One person in California is dead and 284 others across 27 states have been confirmed to have salmonella illnesses linked to fresh Mexican cucumbers from Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce,” The Packer, an industry publication, reported on September 8, 2015.

WebMD describes salmonella as a “nasty bacterium” that “thrives in the intestinal tracts of animals and humans can cause food poisoning. Illnesses range from mild to very serious infections that can kill vulnerable people.”

“Epidemiologic, laboratory and traceback investigations have identified imported cucumbers from Mexico and distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce as a likely source of the infections in this outbreak,” according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recalled Andrew & Williamson cucumbers days earlier before The Packer report came out, but found no outbreak linked to them.

“More than a week before the recall, the CDC consulted with ‘experts from the produce industry’ because the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency isolated salmonella from cucumbers collected during a visit to the Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce facility,” according to The Packer report.

Andrew & Williamson said it acted quickly and would fix problem

“Since we were first notified of this situation by health officials, A&W has been cooperating with the government agencies involved in investigating the ongoing Salmonella poona outbreak and have been working non-stop in response to determine if, and how, our cucumbers are involved in the outbreak,” a senior Andrew & Williamson authority said in The Packer.

The company posted a recall notice on its website concerning a salmonella risk, which The Packer cited.