Across Minnesota today, rural residents, family farmers, Native organizations, environmental health proponents and students organized actions at McDonald’s stores, calling on the fast food giant to cut pesticides in its supply chain by pressuring the R.D. Offutt potato empire to clean up its act.
In Moorhead, Forum News Service reporter Helmut Schmidt writes in Groups join to protest pesticide use on potatoes grown locally for McDonald's:
Local organic farming supporters and pesticide protesters picketed Tuesday at the McDonald's restaurant here and in several other cities in Minnesota and around the nation in an effort to let the fast-food mega-chain and its suppliers know they "aren't lovin' it" when it comes to pesticide overuse and drift from potato-growing operations. . . .
Central and northwestern Minnesota is prime potato-growing country and Fargo-based R.D. Offutt Co. is one of the biggest suppliers of spuds in the region for McDonald's french fries and hash browns, said Amy Mondloch, coordinator for Toxic Taters.
The Comstock-based advocacy group, along with the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, Pesticide Action Network and other groups, organized the rallies.
Mondloch was protesting in Perham, and planned to go to Wadena and Detroit Lakes, too.
Toxic Taters is a grass-roots organization that formed in 2013 after years of efforts by local activists, Mondloch said. . . .
Last year, the group gathered 20,000 signatures to encourage McDonald's to tell potato growers to cut down on pesticide use, she said. . . .
A video is available at the Brainerd Dispatch, McDonald's Pesticide Potato Protest, shot by photographer Steve Kohls. The paper notes:
Calloway, Minn.-based Toxic Taters oppose the way pesticides are used by McDonald’s potato suppliers, including midwest supplier R.D. Offutt, saying it causes serious health issues to nearby people. Before they took up positions on the public sidewalk on Highway 210, also known as Washington Street, protesters walked into McDonald’s itself - toting protest signs - in order to deliver a letter to management. There were only a handful of patrons in the restaurant at about 5:30 p.m. They either ignored the protesters or smiled amicably. A manager told Dispatch photographer Steve Kohls he would be asked to leave if he took photos
The Dispatch's Zach Kayser reports in Anti-pesticide protesters rally at Brainerd McDonald's:
The Brainerd protest was organized by Stephanie Porter of the Minnesota-based Land Stewardship Project. Porter said the event was in support of a Toxic Taters protest campaign at McDonald's locations nationwide, timed to coincide with McDonald's debut of the all-day breakfast menu. The protest aimed to pressure McDonald's to reform their suppliers' use of pesticides and raise awareness of a problem that doesn't get much public attention, she said.
"The average person doesn't realize that the fries that they're purchasing are causing someone 20 minutes away to get cancer, or someone to lose their sheep to poisoning," she said. "The issue's not really out there."
McDonald's committed in 2009 to improving supplier practices but had yet to follow through, Porter said. ...
In a statement, the Toxic Taters group noted:
The McDonald’s Corporation buys more than 3.4 billion pounds of U.S. potatoes annually, making it the largest potato purchaser in the country — and thus the largest influence on the agricultural practices of our nation’s potato growers. The company has not made any meaningful progress since making its 2009 pesticide use reduction promise. McDonald’s has surveyed its growers about their practices, but has taken no other steps to ensure significant reductions in pesticide use.
Toxic Taters is calling on McDonald’s to make the following changes in its potato supply chain:
1. Require that its potato suppliers — like RD Offutt company, a major producer in northern Minnesota — achieve measurable and significant decrease in use of health-harming pesticides.
2. Require its potato producers to release information on the chemicals they apply to their crops.
3. Fund human and ecological health studies on the regions impacted by potato production.
4. Ensure that its potato producers adopt environmentally sound, sustainable agriculture practices.
Take Part's Willy Blackmore reports in All-Day Breakfast at McD's Isn’t a Cause for Celebration for Pesticide Activists:
But for the people behind "Toxic Taters," a campaign run by the Pesticide Action Network, the problem isn’t with what shape of potato hits the fryer but how the potatoes are grown. The group organized protests at McDonald’s locations around the country on Tuesday to coincide with the debut of expanded breakfast hours, calling on the company to clean up its potato supply chain.
The restaurant chain, which uses 3.4 billion pounds of spuds annually, is the country’s largest buyer of potatoes. Were it to require new pesticide management practices on the farms it contracts with, it could create an industry-wide change. Some are hoping that will happen with American poultry, now that McDonald’s says it will only buy meat that has been raised without antibiotics.
The chain said it would look into reforming pesticide practices in 2009, but residents in north-central Minnesota are seeing more negative effects from the expanding potato farms in the region. McDonald's largest potato supplier and the country's largest potatoe grower, R.D. Offutt, was started in Minnesota and continues to opperate there on a large scale.
“As soon as the potatoes moved in, our lives changed,” Holly Ward, who is part of the Toxic Taters Coalition and lives in Perham, Minnesota, said in a press release. “Earlier this summer I was working in my garden when I started to feel burning in my nose, eyes, mouth and skin. I looked up and saw a helicopter spraying the field next door and a yellow-green cloud of pesticide drifting into my yard. There was damage to all of the plants in my garden. My family couldn’t eat the vegetables we’d grown for the rest of the summer.”
The expansion of potato farms in the region is causing so much deforestation that earlier this year the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources halted projects that would clear jack pines to make way for potatoes while an environmental review is conducted. In addition to habitat loss, there are concerns that the groundwater could be contaminated by new farming operations.
In 2012, a study conducted by "Toxic Taters" found that clorothalonil, a fungicide commonly used on potato farms, was present at two-thirds of the 19 off-farm locations it monitored in central Minnesota. The state Department of Agriculture announced best-management practices in 2013 to combat drift, but the measures are voluntary.
Research conducted at the University of Florida found that chlorothalonil caused 100 percent mortality in several species of frogs. After being exposed to the fungicide at levels commensurate to what they would encounter in runoff, the amphibians died within 24 hours.
After reading about the potato industry and deforestation earlier this year, our editor grew her own potatoes in a large garden at a nearby family farm, where frogs and potatoes thrive without ag chemicals. We believe we've grown and stored enough spuds for the winter.
Earlier post about the politics of Minnesota's biggest potato grower:
Photo: Toxic Taters protest in Brainerd.
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