On behalf of Florida’s tomato growers, we, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, an agricultural cooperative of Florida tomato growers, find the Georgetown Solidarity Committee’s comments in THE HOYA regarding our industry (“Students Rally Against Burger King,” THE HOYA, Feb. 26, 2008, A1) completely offensive, and we challenge their claims.

Commercial growers of tomatoes have never “kept people chained up in a U-Haul truck” – an allegation that is completely off-base, given that our farmers operate as socially accountable farm employers, participating in third-party audits that certify employment, health, housing and safety practices.

We completely condemn slavery. Anyone using such practices should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Contrary to the accusations voiced in the media, there have been no slavery cases that have directly involved commercial tomato growers.

For more information about how we ensure that abuses do not exist in our industry, we encourage THE HOYA readers to visit www.safeagemployer.org and www.floridatomatogrowers.org.

Regarding the activist group’s misleading comments about wages, readers should note that payroll records for the 2006-2007 season show that Florida tomato harvesters earn an average of $12.46 per hour. That is more than double the current federal minimum wage of $5.85 per hour and nearly double Florida’s minimum wage of $6.79 per hour.

Citing yearly annual income for farm workers is completely misleading. Harvesting tomatoes is not year-round work; it’s seasonal. After the season in Immokalee ends in May, many of the workers will move on to other crops in other cities and states. So the money they make harvesting Florida tomatoes is only part of the income for those who work in other crops.

The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange is an agricultural cooperative – a private, voluntary organization that operates like a company. Our members are free to sell their tomatoes to whomever they wish. In fact, they continue to sell Florida tomatoes to Yum! Brands and McDonald’s, despite those companies paying more to pickers – they simply have rejected “penny-per-pound” schemes because of concerns over federal and state laws related to antitrust, labor and racketeering.

Even though the penny-per-pound deals with Yum! Brands and McDonald’s are now moot and will not be implemented this season (the McDonald’s deal never went into effect), misguided activists want consumers to waste their time and target Burger King and others.

There are more lasting ways to help farm workers and their families than to protest restaurant and supermarket chains. At the end of the day, our industry is strongly committed to supporting long-term, comprehensive solutions that improve the lives of all farm workers and their families because we greatly value our relationship with them.

Reggie Brown

Executive Vice President, Florida Tomato Growers Exchange

arch 17, 2008

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