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Laura Safer Espinoza. A penny more for tomatoes, in order to save the women in the fields

Economy / -

Laura Safer Espinoza intervista

With a penny more per pound of tomatoes we can eliminate abuse, rape and crimes against workers. This is the key message of the Fair Food Program, an agreement that links farmers from Florida, tomato producers and buyers’ associations, thanks to which much of the abuse suffered by workers in fields has been eradicated. This is why Bill Clinton first, and later Barack Obama decided to recognize the programme monitored by judge Laura Safer Espinoza.

Many big American chains have already joined the Fair Food Program, a binding agreement between the Florida Tomato Growers association and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Its purpose is to guarantee better payments and acceptable work conditions to the workers in the fields, eliminating critical situations that can even include sexual violence. The partnership between workers, property owners and buyers is supervised by the Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC).
Taco Bell and Walmart are some of the big companies that have already subscribed, accepting to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes that come from the agricultural enterprises which respect the CIW program. Laura Safer Espinoza, former judge of the Supreme Court of New York, is the director of the Fair Food Standards Council. And she states: "I feel it is an honor, a privilege, to be part of a moment in history in which buyers, property owners and workers come together to correct a historical injustice. How many people can say the same thing, in their lifetime?"
One of the vehicles of the Fair Food Program is education. What are the conditions that prompt the initiative? 
We start from the fact that today many workers in the fields are still not educated, or even literate. Through our program, with information and videos that describe what should happen in agricultural companies, we help to raise the workers’ awareness about their rights. Cooperating with various associations that help us to monitor the situation of the farmers is also important for us. Everybody needs to know that there is a program that can help put an end to abuse, and when we receive reports about what is happening, this means that people have become aware.
The fact that critical situations have also been indentifed in a State like Florida, in communities of immigrants from Latin America might seem surprising... 
And not only in the wealthy state of Florida, with its beautiful beaches. Our program is expanding to other States of the US. Our commitment is now above all to beat human trafficking, again by adopting an approach that aims to eliminate abuse. This approach has in some cases resulted in the confiscation of the lands from the owners responsible for this abuse.
How is the Fair Food Program structured, how does it work?
I have had direct experience of women and men who cultivate the food we eat but who, for various circumstantial reasons, are unable to sustain themselves or their family, even if they are surrounded by food all day. This is why the Fair Food Program was created, and it is structured to enable the buyers of agricultural products, including no less than thirteen of the major corporations, to buy only from agricultural companies that respect a behavioral code in relation to basic civil rights and minimum wages. Even by paying one penny per pound more, no less than 20 million dollars have been given to those who cultivate the land, in order to let them provide food for their families.
What thoughts are raised by a convention like this one by Valore D, the Women's Forum Italy 2015, where the themes are food, energy, equality, with many other concrete projects? 
Being familiar with the conditions in which food is produced is as important as having it; and as important as ensuring that there is enough for everyone. Considering the role that women already have as mothers, teachers, wives, it is no surprise that here in Milan so many of them have come together, with decision-making roles, capable of making new decisions.
Emma Bonino has talked about the diversity of women as a source of energy. What have you learned about the strength of women, in your job as a judge for more than twenty years, that could be useful for the new generations? 
What I could say to young women is not to stop at titles and labels, but to follow your own mind and passion. It has never been a problem for me to go personally into the fields to verify in person the conditions of the workers, among strain and discomfort, because thanks to my association I could help them recover their dignity. One of the best things I remember is when I would meet the children of the people we were helping… I can say this, invest in what you believe in.
This meeting takes place as part of the Women’s Weeks organized by WE-Women for Expo. Is this program the right way to create a valuable heritage also for future Universal Expositions?
Yes, I believe that it is. I think that when women unite, they transmit respect, energy, they introduce a new way of seeing things. I think that it would be marvelous to see this also in the future Expositions. I have seen women working in the fields, women who have experienced a past of rape, suffering and negation of civil rights, and who are now able to claim their right to life and to dignity. I think that my version of what I have seen, and the versions of the other speakers who joined me in taking to the stage, are the voices the world needs to hear.
It seems as if your appeal also goes beyond the theme of food. 
Absolutely. On every front of social justice women are in the front line.

Second trend: urban vegetable plots

Innovation / -

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(photo credit: Florio Badocchi)




Increasing the total cultivatable area inside cities as well as outside them is a necessity… and also a pleasant hobby. Devices equipped with sensors are able to measure air temperature, atmospheric and soil humidity, concentration of main nutrients, threats, etc. This data is then gathered and processed and communicated via a mobile or web device. But small spaces can also be exploited using aeroponics, aquaponics and hydroponics, none of which require soil.

Tracing food with Safety for Food

Innovation / -

Cisco is mapping Italian DOC and DOCG wines to make information available through a new QR code label that can be read with a smartphone.

Who wouldn’t like to buy a bottle of wine? And to know in real time not only the producer, but also the vine from which grapes were grown to produce it? This scenario is closer to reality than we think, thanks to QR codes on our smartphone (which by now we all have in our pockets) which provide a raft of information. It is a vehicle that is already widely used by companies in advertising, but is also opening up a world of possibilities in the field of food safety. In international markets, in fact, a guarantee of the provenance of food that we cook does not serve simply to satisfy a careful consumer’s curiosity, but is an additional defense against counterfeiting and a quick tool to reconstruct and limit damage from potential contaminations. Indeed, the related costs of such issues are not insignificant, judging by one recent scandal, where traces of horse meat were found in beef preparations, and in that particular instance, its estimated economic impact reached €1 billion in Europe alone. (source: Coldiretti).

A project with three objectives
To explore the potential of new technologies is Cisco Italia, which together with its partner Penelope, is promoting Safety for Food, an initiative involving Expo 2015 S.p.A., Italy’s Ministries of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and Health; the Italian National Institute of Health; Italia sostenibile per azioni, (A Sustainable Italy for Actions), Agenzia per l’Italia digitale (Agency for Digital Italy), and the Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology in Milan.
"It is a project with three objectives - says Michael Festuccia, Head of Solution LED with Cisco Italy; the first, to build consensus and awareness on the issues of traceability as a pillar of food safety. The second, to create a virtuous cycle that helps spread best practices in this field; and finally, there is the area that we will deal with more directly, that is the creation of a worldwide database of food products. "This technology platform - with the contribution of the Italian company, Penelope - will enable the industry sector, governing bodies and consumers everywhere to obtain a complete tracking and tracing of products, in line with international rules and standards for the safety, quality and origin of food.
Wine, Italy's flagship 
"We began with wine - continues Festuccia – as the flagship of the Italian agri-food sector, and among others, the entities that manage DOC and DOCG certification are already cutting-edge in terms of their organization and rules. So far we have mapped 75% of the 33,000 DOC and DOCG producers certified by Valoritalia."
Through the QR code, you can also obtain a genome analysis of the vines and the grapes used and the precise area of the vineyard from which it was gathered: all this is information that builds awareness among consumers and gets them more involved in the purchasing process.
The positive side of the project is how limited costs are, given that once information is catalogued, it is meant to be made available to the Ministry and certification bodies. "The biggest obstacle, however, is the digital divide - admits Festuccia - that mainly affects SMEs, the backbone of the food sector. The project is therefore an opportunity to speed up the digitization of Italian companies."

Avoiding fakes
But can we be sure that the label can't be copied? "Although we plan to have a system of encryption and codes that make scams really difficult, the world of IT is constantly changing and information security requires constant updates - says Festuccia -. In practice, there is no killer application against counterfeiting. The real secret to protecting food production, in my opinion, is to add value to Italian production. The QR code makes it possible to tell more rounded and compelling stories and to foster a culture around our products, winning back credibility and space in the marketplace."

The database will be Cisco’s contribution to the scientific community, from the moment the CNR, Italy's National Research Council, takes its place at the helm, coordinating all those who are working on traceability. Even before the start of Expo Milano 2015, the scientific community will have a means of meeting "online", to share and provide common paths of collaboration, and will be able to ratify an "Agribusiness Charter of Constitution": a document with guidelines and best practices for food safety, to be offered to the world as a legacy of the Universal Exposition.

Over a million people are already #FoodConscious. What about you?

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