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Cheese Made Using Prison Labor Cut from Whole Foods

by Christopher Zoukis

Chuck Hellmer had a problem. His upscale goat cheese company, Haystack Mountain, was selling cheese to Whole Foods, but he couldn't find a reliable source of goat milk. Without the milk, he would be unable to fill the high-end giant's cheese order.

"A couple of weeks, and we weren't going to be able to supply our customers with cheese," Hellmer told NPR.

Fortunately for Hellmer and his company, the prison industrial complex came to the rescue. Colorado Correctional Industries (CCI) proposed setting up a goat dairy inside a prison. Leveraging the peculiar labor supplied by the prison, CCI could produce the goat milk Hellmer needed, and at the right price.

Prison laborers are notoriously underpaid, if they are paid at all. Wages range from a few cents an hour up to the couple of dollars a day that CCI prisoners are paid to milk goats. Indeed, the abolishment of slavery inside the United States has one notable exception: prisoners. One of the same arguments used by pre-civil war plantation owners to defend slavery is used by modern prison officials to defend prison labor: it costs a lot less.

Joey Grisenti, who runs the CCI goat farm, made this point in an interview with NPR.

"Nobody wants to have a big goat dairy. So we did it," said Grisenti, referring to the labor cost issue. "A lot of people just can't afford to have the manpower that we have here."

Michael Allen, a prison reform activist, saw a problem with using the labor of obscenely underpaid prisoners to support a business that can't compete in the real labor market. So he sent a letter to Whole Foods, alerting CEO John Mackey that the company was selling goat cheese made, in part, with prison labor. Whole Foods responded by pulling Haystack Mountain's cheese from its shelves.

According to NPR, Haystack Mountain is still in business, making artisanal cheese for the well-heeled consumer, using the labor of underpaid prisoners.


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