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Could “Comic Contracts” help protect vulnerable workers?

South African group Indigo Fruit Growers thinks they can.

The company, which produces, packs and supplies ClemenGold mandarins to local and international markets, developed the concept in a bid to make contracts easier to understand for farmworkers.

The registered idea Comic Contracts was originally put forward by Robert de Rooy, a South African lawyer based in Cape Town and legal counsel for ClemenGold for many years. Comic Contract

The concept uses visualization to improve the understanding of contractual terms: the parties are represented by characters and illustrations are used to explain the terms of the contract.

The company said the contracts challenge the “taken-for-granted assumption” that only text can capture the terms of a contract”, by using mainly pictures instead of words for a binding agreement.

“It is based on the fact that pictures are easier to understand and easier to remember. The purpose of a Comic Contract is to empower the parties to understand each other, to understand what they expect from each other, and what they are committing to,” de Rooy said in a release.

Indigo Fruit Growers said the contracts were especially designed to address the needs of vulnerable employees: employees who either cannot read well or have difficulties understanding the language in which the contract is written.

Whilst the legal system requires that all employees have an employment contract, it assumes that everyone can read proficiently and understand the contractual terms presented to them.

However, the company claimed this was rarely the case in South Africa, especially in sectors employing low-skill workers such as agriculture, mining, manufacturing and domestic work.

“The way in which most contracts are drafted and presented (‘this is standard, sign it or leave it’) does not support a good relationship. Most employees don’t read it, nor would they be able to understand it if they tried,” de Rooy said, adding the situation perpetuated the power imbalance between employers and employees.

The release said under these circumstances employees were bound to terms which they don’t understand, couldn’t live up to, and could not use to hold their employers accountable, which meant misunderstanding and conflict in the workplace should come as no surprise.

“We are really excited about the transparency this contract brings to our employee relations,” said ANB Investments CEO Abs van Rooyen, whose company owns Indigo.

“It creates a more equitable situation, which can only be the start of a more ‘honest’ relationship with our employees. I believe that workers can only commit fully to the content of a contract if they understand what they are signing.”

Indigo recently initiated the implementation of the Comic Contracts, which were first presented to 50 fruit pickers who had previously worked for Indigo. Indigo. Following the successful induction of these 50 workers, the contract was presented the next day to a further 163 fruit-pickers.

“The feedback was positive. No picker asked for the old contract,” said farm manager Faan Kruger.

“Although everything was new and there were many questions, the process went much faster than with a traditional contract.”

CO Craft Breweries Enlist Vulnerable U.S. Senator in Pushback on Spent Grains

Spent grains, a brewing byproduct long fed to livestock, might end up in landfills if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not lift its heavy hand when it comes to the newly proposed animal food rule, cattle producers say. And, while the multi-billion-dollar ethanol industry has not yet weighed in on this controversy, one state’s beer-makers and their politically endangered U.S. senator have mounted a pushback.

Although not nearly as big as the ethanol industry, Colorado’s craft breweries contributed $ 836 million to the state’s economy last year, with their operations becoming integral to the economies of cities on the Front Range as well as to the ski towns of the Rockies such as Aspen and Vail.

With about 140 craft breweries in Colorado, there are enough that every college and/or tourist town can have a few of their very own beers. Brands such as New Belgium, Odell, Oskar Blue and Left Hand sell enough to land in the nation’s top-50 lists of craft beers; many now dominate the taps of bars and restaurants across the U.S.

But, like craft breweries around the country, Colorado beer-makers have a problem. Spent grain from the brewery process commonly finds its way to farms, where it is used as animal feed. A new animal food rule from FDA, drafted to help implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, could make those brewery-farm relationships too costly to continue.

The animal food rule would subject producers of spent grains – from whatever source – to new and expensive FDA food-safety requirements. (See the Food Safety News story published today on comments brewers’ groups have submitted about FDA’s proposed rules.)

In one of those intersections of economic clout, linking Colorado’s craft breweries with the need to shore up U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s (D-CO) shaky reelection prospects, spent grains are suddenly right up there with health care and traffic congestion as statewide issues.

Udall fired off a letter Monday to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg demanding that she put the proposed animal food rule aside until a “risk assessment” can be completed on the reuse of spent brewery grains as animal feed.

“I support a robust framework of smart regulations that minimize unnecessary risk and keep our nation’s food supply safe,” Udall wrote. “This particular part of the Animal Food (Rule), while well intentioned, does not seem based on evidence of risk or hazard. I hope FDA will reconsider its initial interpretation and formally review the body of evidence that exists in abundance on this particular topic to determine if in fact spent brewers grains warrant designation as ‘animal food.’”

Udall claims new regulatory treatment of brewer’s grains is not justified, adding, “Perhaps most relevantly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has decades worth of data that demonstrates the history of spent brewers grain used as animal food. This information does not reveal to my knowledge any evidence that dedicating spent brewers grains for agricultural use has ever compromised food safety to animals or humans.”

The liberal Democrat stated that brewers and farmers have a longstanding partnership based on sustainability and environmentally responsible practices.

“This rule after all is about establishing risk-based controls and so I hope the agency will avail itself of existing documentation that details the decades of real world experience that brewers and farmers have had and have reported to USDA,” Udall added.

Udall’s letter does not specifically address distillers grains from ethanol production. Distillers grains have been widely used by livestock producers, especially those located in close proximity to ethanol-production facilities.

Udall is facing a tough challenge from U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO). The conservative Republican hails from Weld County, which is on the receiving end of much of the spent grains and where livestock feeders say they might have to look for alternatives if it gets too pricey.

The national Brewers Association conducted a member survey in 2013 that found 90 percent of the spent grain produced by beer-makers is fed to livestock.

Food Safety News

Crop species may be more vulnerable to climate change than we thought

A new study by a Wits University scientist has overturned a long-standing hypothesis about plant speciation (the formation of new and distinct species in the course of evolution), suggesting that agricultural crops could be more vulnerable to climate change than was previously thought.

Unlike humans and most other animals, plants can tolerate multiple copies of their genes — in fact some plants, called polyploids, can have more than 50 duplicates of their genomes in every cell. Scientists used to think that these extra genomes helped polyploids survive in new and extreme environments, like the tropics or the Arctic, promoting the establishment of new species.

However, when Dr Kelsey Glennon of the Wits School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences and a team of international collaborators tested this long-standing hypothesis, they found that, more often than not, polyploids shared the same habitats as their close relatives with normal genome sizes.

“This means that environmental factors do not play a large role in the establishment of new plant species and that maybe other factors, like the ability to spread your seeds to new locations with similar habitats, are more important,” said Glennon.

“This study has implications for agriculture and climate change because all of our important crops are polyploids and they might not be much better at adapting to changing climate than their wild relatives if they live in similar climates.”

Glennon’s study also provides an alternative explanation for why plants are so diverse in places like the Cape where the climate has been stable for hundreds of thousands of years. Although her study examined plant species from North America and Europe only, she is looking forward to testing her hypotheses using South African plants.

Glennon’s paper has been published in Ecology Letters.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wits University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily