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Valentine’s Day reminder: Together we can end child labor in cocoa



Richard Scobey is president of the World Cocoa Foundation, where he leads the strategic development of the organization. 

What gives chocolate its unique taste is its main ingredient: cocoa. Indulging our sweet tooth on Valentine’s Day and year-round relies on the work of millions of farmers, mostly in West Africa, who harvest cocoa pods from trees on small plots of land. Most of them are too poor to hire workers — so their children help with the farm work.

The cocoa and chocolate industry wants to see children in school, not toiling on farms, and has worked for decades with the West African governments to reduce child labor in the supply chain. The results have been mixed, meaning we urgently need a new approach to fix the problem.

N’Dri Kouadio Pascal is a farmer in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s leading cocoa-producing country, and he is a great example of both the challenges and opportunities of cocoa. Pascal never went to school and as an orphan spent his youth as a child laborer on cocoa farms.

World Cocoa Foundation


Today he farms his own 23-hectare plot of land in Toinié in southwest Côte d’Ivoire. He received assistance and training through an industry supported cooperative, which he says helped increase his yield and income.

“Before I was harvesting three bags and now, I’m doing about 20 bags,” he said. That means more money so he can send his younger children to school. Unlike his own childhood, his children do not need to spray the trees with insecticides, carry heavy loads, break pods with machetes or face other risks in cocoa farming work.

When we talk about child labor in cocoa this is usually defined as work that harms a child. More than 99% of all children working on cocoa farms in West Africa do so within their families. This is different from forced child labor, which a report showed is extremely rare in the cocoa sector.

Ending child labor requires the work of cocoa-growing communities, governments in cocoa producing countries, the chocolate and cocoa industry, and chocolate-consuming countries around the world.

Chocolate companies have invested more than $215 million in the fight against child labor. Some of these investments have shown results. The International Cocoa Initiative estimates that child labor has fallen by about 50% among the child laborers identified by its program.

The problem is larger than the successes, however. As global demand for chocolate grows, so does cocoa production. This can mean more children working on farms.

According to estimates, two million children in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire are exposed to what the International Labor Organization calls the worst forms of child labor. Industry and the governments of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and the United States pledged in 2010 to work together to cut this number by 70% by 2020. This goal is not expected to be met.  

Company initiatives to fight child labor currently reach about 200,000 out of 1.6 million cocoa-farming households. The challenge is to expand programs that fight child labor so they tackle the root causes of the problem.

These root causes are heavily associated with poverty. A higher income was important for Pascal’s children but so too was a nearby school and awareness campaigns against child labor. It takes a range of actions to lift farmers out of poverty and save their children from child labor.

The cocoa and chocolate industry is working with the West African governments in 2020 to take the fight against child labor to a new and much higher level. New initiatives will seek to combine the work of governments, U.N. agencies and development partners, and civil society to tackle the root causes of child labor in a more direct way. This will include increasing farmer incomes, so they no longer need to use their children as workers. It will also include improving education for children with a significant public-private investment in the school systems in West Africa. Other actions will include expanding health, nutrition and child protection services.

These actions will accelerate industry investment and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goal, adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015, to end child labor in all its forms.

We want more cocoa farmers to be able to say what Pascal says when he declares that being a cocoa farmer is “a good thing,” because “you can take care of your children with that.”


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French Salmonella outbreak linked to horse meat from Romania



A Salmonella outbreak linked to horse meat from Romania sickened 25 people in France this past year, according to a new report.

Eleven cases were men and 14 were women. They ranged from 2 to 90 years of age and the median was 68 years old.

In September 2019, the regional unit of Santé Publique France in the Hauts-de-France region was alerted to a spike in Salmonella Bovismorbificans notifications in Nord and Pas-de-Calais during the first two weeks of August, found by the National Reference Center for E. coli, Salmonella and Shigella at Institut Pasteur.

The 25 salmonellosis cases, belonging to the same genomic cluster, were identified between Aug. 4 and 26, 2019. Nine people needed hospital treatment and two had severe complications but none died.

Hypothesis from patient interviews
Twenty people were interviewed. Results of a food survey revealed consumption of chilled raw or undercooked minced (ground) horse meat by 18 of 20 cases questioned in the days before onset of symptoms. No other food was eaten by all those interviewed.

Of the two people who did not eat horse meat, one person was infected with a strain having genetic characteristics slightly different from the other cases and the other was sick after eating a Bolognese pizza in a restaurant.

Consumption of horse meat has decreased significantly in France in recent decades but most of those who eat it live in Hauts-de-France. Horse meat is mainly imported from Italy, Romania, Poland, the United States or South America despite some domestic production.

Symptoms lasted for two to 21 days with a mean duration of 10 days and the mean length of hospital stay was eight days, ranging from three to 21 days.

The investigation identified a common Belgian wholesaler, supplied by a slaughterhouse and a meat cutting workshop in Romania. Batches of implicated horse meat were also distributed to Austria, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden and Vietnam.

At the European level, none of the 14 countries which replied to the French alert about the increase in Salmonella Bovismorbificans cases observed any recent rise in infections belonging to the same genomic cluster as the French cases.

Involvement of Belgium and Romania
The fact that most purchases were made on markets made it easier to identify the buying dates and time of consumption. Four distributors obtained carcasses or pieces of horse meat from the same wholesaler of fresh meat in Belgium.

Dates of purchases cited by those sick and analysis of purchase orders and invoices provided by the distributors, made it possible to link the dates of purchase to the raw materials used and with several batches of horse meat, from a slaughterhouse and cutting workshop in Romania.

Controls were carried out in the places of purchase or vehicles cited by those ill and analyzes were done on equipment and pieces of meat, available at the time of inspections but different from batches sold during the outbreak. Salmonella Bovismorbificans was not found in the meat tested.

It was not possible to confirm the hypotheses by finding strains of Salmonella Bovismorbificans in meat consumed by cases, due to the absence of leftovers from implicated lots. The exact origin of the contamination of the meat suspected of causing the outbreak has not been found.

The outbreak was the fourth due to consumption of horse meat documented in recent years. The others in 2003, 2006 and 2010 involved Salmonella Newport, Salmonella Meleagridis and Salmonella Typhimurium.

In 2018, a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak in France was suspected to be caused by chilled horse meat from Belgium, processed in Romania, with raw material from Hungary. Austria, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland were also part of this alert.

In France, Salmonella Bovismorbificans is rarely isolated from humans with less than 50 cases identified, respectively in 2016 and 2017.

Officials said prevention of foodborne infections requires a change in risky eating habits. It involves informing vulnerable people about the risks of consuming raw or undercooked ground meat were contamination will not be destroyed if there is insufficient cooking.

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