Is Eating Raspberries Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

Is Eating Raspberries Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:22 Minutes

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Raspberries are a popular and diverse fruit with over 200 varieties. Moreover, raspberry production is ever-growing. For example, almost a million tons of the fruit were grown in 2021, which is an increase of 34% since 2011. But there can also be some significant ethical and sustainability concerns when it comes to eating raspberries. So we had to ask: Is eating raspberries ethical and sustainable?

Eating raspberries is fairly unethical. The industry is rife with dangerous working conditions, as well as low pay and unstable working conditions. However, there are no major reports of child or forced labor. 

Eating raspberries is somewhat unsustainable. Raspberries have a moderately negative environmental impact. This is mainly because they use nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides, and plastic packaging. However, they also have a low carbon footprint and contribute to land restoration.

In this article, we will assess both the ethical and sustainability practices of the raspberry industry. Through these two lenses, you will be able to gain in-depth knowledge of the overall impacts of the raspberries that you eat!

Here’s How We Assessed the Ethics & Sustainability of Raspberries

The Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems (SAFA) is one of the ways we measure the externalities of our actions, like the consumption of raspberries. It is a holistic assessment based on the potential impact of food and agriculture operations on the environment and people. Those impacts are changes in our environment that can have adverse effects on the air, land, water, fish, and wildlife or the inhabitants of the ecosystem.

“Ethical: The discipline concerned with what is morally good and bad and morally right and wrong”

Encyclopedia Britannica

Ethics and sustainability are closely interconnected concepts that share a common objective: the well-being and preservation of our planet, including all its life and future generations.

“Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

Basically, all goods and services you buy—including raspberries—leave an impact on people, animals, and our environment. And when it comes to food in general—and raspberries in specific—the following are key factors for their ethics and sustainability:

To understand the overall environmental impact of raspberries, we must assess each of their key factors. This Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems (SAFA) is a tool developed for assessing the impact of food and agriculture operations on the environment and people. And this tool helps us to evaluate whether eating raspberries is ethical & sustainable.

Here’s How Ethical & Sustainable Eating Raspberries Is

The overall ethics & sustainability of raspberries is fairly low. The main factors that contribute to this are their hazardous working conditions and low land yield, as well as their use of irrigation, pesticides, nitrogen fertilizer, and plastic packaging. 

Raspberries have some positive qualities when it comes to their ethics and sustainability. For example, there aren’t any major reports of child or forced labor in the US raspberry industry. Raspberry farming can also contribute to land restoration projects, plus they have a fairly low carbon footprint. However, they do still have a significant number of environmentally damaging qualities. 

So, let’s have a look at the ethics & sustainability impact of each key factor of raspberries!

Key Assessment FactorsEthics & Sustainability
Social and economic conditions of raspberriesRaspberries’ social and economic conditions are fairly bad. This is because working conditions are often poor and low wages are common.
Seasonality of raspberriesRaspberries’ seasonality is between June and August. This means that they are typically imported from Mexico outside of this time and are thus less sustainable.
Land requirements for raspberriesRaspberries’ land requirements are very high. However, they also have more eco-friendly farming practices and sequester carbon well. Therefore, they are somewhat sustainable at this stage. 
Water footprint of raspberriesRaspberries have a moderate water requirement of 50 inches of water per year. However, their water footprint is increased through their use of irrigation and pesticides, which contribute to water pollution at a rate akin to many other fruits. This renders them moderately sustainable at this stage. 
Agrochemical usage for raspberriesRaspberries’ agrochemical usage is high. Pair this with their use of the particularly harmful nitrogen fertilizer and they are very unsustainable at this stage. 
Carbon footprint of raspberriesRaspberries have a fairly low carbon footprint of 0.15kg (0.33lb) of CO2e per pound of raspberries. This footprint is mainly caused by their high-growth resources, including land use, irrigation, and pesticides. They also require plastic packaging and refrigerated transportation from Mexico. 
Waste generation of raspberriesThe waste generation of raspberries is significant. This is mainly because they use plastic packaging, which is very unsustainable. 

These are the overall summaries, but there is a lot more to the story. In the next few sections, we will dive deeper into each stage to illustrate to you all the important aspects of raspberries’ ethics & sustainability.

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Social and Economic Conditions for Raspberries

Raspberries’ social and economic conditions are fairly bad. This is because working conditions are often poor and low wages are common.

Everything we consume was made or harvested by somebody. In past centuries, this was often someone who lived in your community and who you might have even known personally. But through the rise of globalized distribution systems, we have become increasingly alienated from the people who make our food. This leaves a lot of room for exploitation and abuse, both of which are rampant in the food industry. Here, we will look at how the raspberry industry fares in relation to these ethical questions.

How ethical & sustainable are the social and economic conditions of growing raspberries?

  • Are farmers paid fair wages to grow raspberries: Workers in California’s raspberry industry make around $10 an hour. This is more than the US federal minimum wage, but is only 65% of the state’s minimum wage of $15 an hour. This means that many raspberry agricultural workers in California are making substandard wages. 
  • How safe are the working conditions to grow raspberries: The working conditions on California’s raspberry farms can be very taxing. From extreme heat to flash floods to dangerous chemicals, many raspberry farmers experience extreme discomfort and even danger. This shows that there is a high possibility of the raspberries you buy being picked by people in such conditions. 
  • Are there reports of child or forced labor to grow raspberries: There aren’t major reports of child labor on raspberry farms specifically. However, there have been significant reports of child labor in US blueberry and strawberry farms. Therefore, though they have not been named specifically, raspberry production may have been involved in these activities. 
  • What is the wider economic impact on the communities that grow raspberries: Many workers on California’s raspberry farms are migrant workers from Mexico and Central America. This comes with a variety of vulnerabilities, especially for those who are undocumented, mainly through exploitation and wage theft from farms. With the unstable situation of many of these workers, the impact on them and their families can be very significant.

In short, raspberries’ potentially dangerous farming conditions for workers, as well as the prevalence of low or unstable pay, means that they are significantly unethical. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Seasonality for Raspberries

Raspberries’ seasonality is between June and August. This means that they are typically imported from Mexico outside of this time and are thus less sustainable. 

Every fruit has a natural season in which they grow, usually lasting a couple of months, which can range depending on the region. However, international demand for every kind of fruit is year-round. This demand is often met by importing fruits from tropical places which can grow year-round, or by growing them in greenhouses. Both of these methods use more resources and are thus less sustainable than conventional farming. Here, we will look at how the raspberry industry accommodates year-round demand.

How ethical & sustainable is it to grow raspberries in-season vs out-of-season?

  • When is the natural season for growing and harvesting raspberries: Raspberries are in season between June and August. This means that they will be more widely available and sustainable during this time. 
  • How are raspberries naturally grown in-season: Raspberries grow on bushes, primarily in California when they are in-season. This means that they are fairly sustainable in their season, since they are grown domestically. 
  • How are raspberries grown out-of-season: Outside of the main raspberry season, the US imports most of its raspberries from Mexico. Mexican raspberries make up 96% of all raspberries in the US between October and May. Therefore, they need to be transported and so are less sustainable during this time. 

In short, raspberries’ summer seasonality means that they are significantly less sustainable to eat during the winter and spring. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Land Requirements for Raspberries

Raspberries’ land requirements are very high. However, they also have more eco-friendly farming practices and sequester carbon well. Therefore, they are somewhat sustainable at this stage. 

Illustration of global land use for food production
Our World in Data: Global land use for food production

The growth stage has a major impact on fruits’ sustainability. The amount of land used, especially in relation to its expansion, the method with which they are grown, and their effect on surrounding land and wildlife are all important factors. In this section, we will look at the ways in which raspberries’ land usage affects their sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable are the land requirements for growing raspberries?

In short, raspberries’ extremely low land yield means that they use more resources than other fruits. However, their gentler effect on lands and carbon-sequestering properties mean that they are somewhat sustainable at this stage.

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Water Footprint of Raspberries

Raspberries have a moderate water requirement of 50 inches of water per year. However, their water footprint is increased through their use of irrigation and pesticides, which contribute to water pollution at a rate akin to many other fruits. This renders them moderately sustainable at this stage. 

Water usage is one of the most important factors in a fruit’s sustainability. Practices like irrigation use significant resources and can cause pollution, and as such, factors like the amount of water used, where it is sourced, as well as the way they affect the water sources around them, are all important. Here, we will look at these different angles of raspberries’ water footprint.

How ethical & sustainable is the water footprint of growing raspberries?

In short, raspberries’ use of significant irrigation, pesticides, and plastic packaging are all very damaging to waterways.

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Agrochemical Usage for Raspberries

Raspberries’ agrochemical usage is high. Pair this with their use of the particularly harmful nitrogen fertilizer and they are very unsustainable at this stage. 

Pesticides and fertilizers are agrochemicals that are very unsustainable and damaging to ecosystems. This is because they require resources to create and can easily run off into groundwater and soil systems. Here, we will look at how sustainable raspberries’ pesticide and fertilizer rates really are.

How ethical & sustainable is the agrochemical usage of growing raspberries?

In short, the amount and types of agrochemicals used by raspberries are very unsustainable. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Carbon Footprint of Raspberries

Raspberries have a fairly low carbon footprint of 0.15kg (0.33lb) of CO2e per pound of raspberries. This footprint is mainly caused by their high-growth resources, including land use, irrigation, and pesticides. They also require plastic packaging and refrigerated transportation from Mexico. 

Illustration of global greenhouse gas emissions from food production
Our World in Data: Global greenhouse gas emissions from food production

Carbon footprint is one aspect of the overall sustainability of a fruit. It essentially measures how much carbon or other greenhouse gasses the production of fruits emits into the atmosphere. Emissions from product manufacturing, irrigation, transportation fuel, and landfills all add up to create the overall carbon footprint of a fruit. Let’s see how the carbon footprint of raspberries contributes to their overall sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable is the carbon footprint of raspberries?

  • What is the overall carbon footprint of raspberries: The overall carbon footprint of raspberries is 0.15kg (0.33lb) of CO2e per pound of raspberries. This means that for every pound of raspberries, 0.15kg of carbon is released into the atmosphere. This is a fairly low carbon footprint compared to other fruits. 
  • What are the main contributors to the carbon footprint of raspberries: The main factors that contribute to raspberries’ carbon footprint are their low land yields, significant irrigation requirements, high pesticide use, plastic packaging, and refrigerated transportation
  • Which life-cycle stage of raspberries has the highest carbon footprint: The stage that contributes the most to raspberries’ carbon footprint is the growth period, mainly because of the higher-than-average resources needed to grow raspberries.

In short, while raspberries do have some high-emitting stages in their life cycle, they still maintain a below-average carbon footprint among fruits. 

Related: Check out our full article on “What Is the Carbon Footprint of Raspberries? A Life-Cycle Analysis” to find out all about the carbon footprint of raspberries and how each stage of their life-cycle contributes to it (plus, what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint when shopping for raspberries).

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Waste Generation of Raspberries

The waste generation of raspberries is significant. This is mainly because they use plastic packaging, which is very unsustainable. 

When fruit waste, either in the form of packaging or organic materials, is disposed of, it can cause a lot of problems. Whether it’s damaging wildlife, getting into oceans, emitting methane, or dissolving into microplastics that contaminate groundwater, all these materials have their part to play. The sheer amount of waste we produce is reaching a crisis point and won’t be able to continue much longer. In this section, we will look at how sustainable raspberries’ waste generation is.

How ethical & sustainable is the waste generation of raspberries?

  • What is the packaging of raspberries: Raspberries are typically packaged in plastic clamshells. Plastic has a very negative environmental impact during its production process. Therefore, raspberries’ sustainability is lowered significantly by using plastic.
  • How is the packaging of raspberries disposed of: Plastic packaging has very low recycling rates, at around 9%. This means that the majority of raspberry packaging is ending up in landfills. Landfills cause significant environmental damage, including land clearance and chemical pollution. Furthermore, plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose. Therefore, the quantity and longevity of raspberry packaging in landfills is very unsustainable.
  • How are raspberries disposed of: Raspberries are generally consumed whole, and as such, they don’t have significant food waste. However, raspberries have an extremely short shelf life of only around 2–3 days, which is much shorter than other fruits, and even other berries. This may lead to them being thrown out more easily.

In short, raspberries’ use of plastic packaging is the main driving force of their waste impact. They also have a short shelf life, which may lead to more organic waste.

What Have Been Historical Ethics & Sustainability Issues Connected to the Raspberry Industry

The raspberry industry has historically had a mixed impact on the environment. For example, it has both been involved in land restoration projects, as well as damage to ecosystems from pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers. The industry has also had human rights issues due to harassment allegations. 

All fruits have had a complex road toward global distribution. They originate in one part of the world and often travel far to end up in your local supermarket. From farm to table, some of our favorite fruits have used unsustainable practices. Whether it’s exploiting labor, deforestation to meet demand, water pollution, or disruption of wildlife, most fruits have left a path of destruction. Many of these effects are still felt today or have even increased. Let’s see how raspberries have fared throughout history.

What have been the key ethical & sustainable issues of the raspberry industry?

  • Has labor been exploited because of raspberry production: There have been many instances of human rights allegations on raspberry farms. One case was a raspberry farm in California, which was accused of perpetuating widespread sexual harassment in 2018. These cases show that workers on raspberry farms have historically faced endangerment. 
  • How much land has been lost because of raspberry production: Raspberry production has not had a significant impact on land loss over the years. In fact, raspberry bushes have been used frequently as a way of restoring previously damaged lands. Therefore, the raspberry industry has actually been able to have a positive impact in some ways. 
  • Which wildlife species have been negatively impacted or displaced because of raspberry production: Pesticide use has had a significantly negative historical impact on wildlife populations. Pesticides get into soil and water, rising up the food chain and being consumed by many different species. This has caused wildlife to have limited or contaminated food sources, resulting in declining populations. Raspberries’ high use of pesticides has been particularly damaging to wildlife over the years. 
  • Have water sources and soil been contaminated because of raspberry production: Nitrogen fertilizer is particularly damaging to waterways. The algae that are promoted in their growth can be very damaging to aquatic life and can spread easily to nearby rivers, streams, and lakes. Raspberries’ heavy use of nitrogen fertilizer means that they have caused some serious harm to waterways over the years. 

In short, the historical impact of raspberries has consisted of both land restoration, as well as damage to wildlife and workers’ safety, causing them to have both positive and negative impacts in terms of their sustainability and ethics.

How Can You Reduce Your Environmental Impact and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

There are a few things you can do to make your raspberry consumption more ethical and sustainable, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and lemon-related carbon emissions, which work to remove carbon emissions elsewhere that are then attributed to you. Here, we will walk you through how to accomplish both of these things.

How Can You Shop for Raspberries More Ethically & Sustainably

In this section, we give you a short list of ways you can consume raspberries in a more sustainable way. This list is designed to target the most unsustainable parts of lemons’ life-cycle:

  1. Buy raspberries in-season: Raspberries in-season are typically grown in the US, whereas out-of-season raspberries are typically imported from Mexico. This means that raspberries are more sustainable when bought within their season of June to August. 
  2. Buy organic raspberries: Another unsustainable aspect of raspberry production is high pesticide use. Organic farms generally avoid high amounts of chemical pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers and so they are good to support if you want to reduce your pesticide and fertilizer impact. Additionally, raspberries with fewer pesticides will be safer for farmers, making them more ethical as well as sustainable. 
  3. Consume your raspberries as soon as possible: The short shelf life of raspberries means that they tend to be thrown out more often than other fruits. If you make the effort to eat your raspberries as soon as you buy them, you will mitigate the risk of them ending up in a landfill. 
  4. Avoid plastic packaging: Although most raspberries come in plastic clamshells, there are some that come in cardboard cartons. Cardboard can still cause some environmental damages, but it is more widely recycled than plastic and can even be composted, making it a much more sustainable option.

Following some of these methods can really help you to make your raspberry-eating more sustainable. None of these will completely eradicate the negative impacts, since there are always effects that may be outside of your control. But some reduction is always better than nothing!

Which Organizations Can You Support to Help Promote Ethics & Sustainability

While raspberry production engages in some very unsustainable practices, there are also some organizations that help you change the parts of these processes that would otherwise be outside of your control. These organizations are working hard to prevent and reverse damage to the environment caused by industries like raspberry agriculture, towards a more sustainable future.

In the table below are some of the best charities that work in the areas where raspberry production are very unsustainable—and beyond:

Overall ethics & sustainabilityBest charities that advance ethics worldwide
Best charities that promote sustainability
Social and economic impactBest charities that help farmers
SeasonalityBest charities that fight to protect our environment
Land requirementsBest charities for reforestation
Best wildlife conservation
charities for protecting the Amazon rainforest
Water footprintBest charities that fight for clean water
Best charities that help conserve our rivers
Best charities to save our oceans
Agrochemical usageBest charities for helping farm animals
Carbon footprintBest charities for climate change
Best carbon offsets for individuals
Waste generationBest charities that fight to reduce food waste
Best charities that fight to end plastic pollution
Best charities that promote recycling

Though it is helpful to boost the sustainability of your personal raspberry consumption, supporting these organizations takes your positive impact a step further. You will be reaching far beyond your own consumption impacts and helping to build a better world for everyone!

How Can You Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

The carbon footprint is a key part of how sustainable we live. And it is one of the ways we measure the effects of our human-induced global climate change. Yes, even from eating raspberries!

“Carbon footprint: the amount of greenhouse gasses and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period”

Merriam Webster

Basically, it is the amount of carbon emitted by you as an individual or an organization providing you with goods and services – including raspberries:

Illustration of carbon emissions from food
Our World in Data: Emissions from food alone would take us past 1.5°C or 2°C this century

Carbon offsets are reductions in carbon emissions that are used to compensate for carbon emissions occurring elsewhere – for example for the carbon emissions that are associated with raspberries. They are measured in tons of CO2 equivalents and are bought and sold through international brokers, online retailers, and trading platforms on what is known as the global carbon offset market. 

“Carbon Offset: a way for a company or person to reduce the level of carbon dioxide for which they are responsible by paying money to a company that works to reduce the total amount produced in the world, for example by planting trees”

Oxford Dictionary

In terms of raspberries – and indeed all food types – there will always be a carbon footprint, because of the resources it takes to get your food from farms to the place where you’ll eventually eat them. And while there are ways to reduce your carbon footprint when shopping for raspberries, carbon offsets would be a way to reduce your CO2e emissions all the way down to net zero (or even to become climate positive).

However, when you purchase carbon offsets, it’s important that they actually make a difference in offsetting (aka reducing) total carbon emissions. To achieve that, the following are key criteria:

  • Carbon offset projects have to be effective (different projects have different effectiveness rates)
  • Carbon offset projects have to be additional
  • Carbon offset projects have to be permanent
  • The claims from carbon offset projects have to be verifiable

To find the best carbon offsets for you personally, check out our full guide on the best carbon offsets for individuals, where you’ll also learn more about how these carbon offset projects work, what their respective offsetting costs are, and what your best way would be to offset your own carbon emissions.

Related: Check out our full guide on “What Are the Best Carbon Offsets for Individuals: Complete 2024 List” to find the best carbon offset providers for your personal carbon emissions and those associated to, e.g., eating raspberries.

Final Thoughts

Raspberries have a long way to go before they can be called sustainable and ethical. They use many harmful practices like nitrogen fertilizers, high amounts of pesticides, irrigation, and plastic packaging. They also have many ethical issues, such as wage theft and sexual harassment allegations. However, there are still many things you can do as the consumer to reduce this impact, such as buying in-season and organic raspberries and avoiding plastic packaging. You can also support organizations that are fighting ecological destruction. If you try these things, you will be able to greatly improve the ethics and sustainability of your raspberries.

Stay impactful,

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