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Comparing today’s tomato with the tomato of 1960: a story of modern industrial agriculture

Jun 21, 2011

Tomatoes are the second-most popular produce in the U.S., and Americans have come to expect access to plump, red tomatoes year-round. Yet to achieve this end, Florida—which produces one third of tomatoes in the U.S.—uses one hundred different herbicides and pesticides on tomatoes, which are then picked hard and green and then artificially gassed until their skins turn red. And consumers aren’t the only victims—underpaid tomato pickers in Florida, exposed to these toxins day in and day out, are suffering from cancer, respiratory ailments, and severe birth defects as a result. To make matters worse, one assistant U.S. attorney referred to Florida’s tomato industry as “ground zero for modern-day slavery,” complete with beatings and being “sold” to field bosses to pay off debt. And the product that’s produced? Florida’s tomatoes, while having tripled in yield, have dramatically less vitamin C, vitamin A, and calcium and fourteen times the amount of sodium of tomatoes of the 1960s. Barry Estabrook tells this frightening story and makes us all think twice before we take a bite.

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