April 6, 2007

The real cost of bananas

Dole (Standard Fruit Co.) and Chiquita Brands (formerly United Brands, formerly United Fruit) have a 100-year long history of contaminating land and water, suppressing unions, bribing government officials, exposing and even knowingly spraying workers with carcinogenic pesticides, and violating even the meager worker protection laws that Central American countries have.

Workers' lives in the banana republic, which referred to an interesting story called Life in the banana republic written in Ireland, sparked so many comments that I thought you might be interested in some other articles and studies done about the real cost of bananas. I've included some quotes from each of the articles below each link.

The Price of Bananas: The Banana Industry in Costa Rica

Ecosystems have been destroyed on an ongoing basis, and the rights of workers and indigenous minorities are regularly violated.
Big banana companies own the land:
Over time, the existence of this huge monoculture -- supported by large capital and by government agricultural policies -- has resulted in a concentration of the best lands in the hands of large banana producers and impoverishment of much of the population. It has created a food security crisis, as revealed by Costa Rica's need to import basic foods, and has destroyed thousands of acres of primary forests. High levels of pesticide use have caused widespread contamination of water throughout banana growing regions.
Women and banana plantations:
"We wash clothes impregnated with pesticides. We would go to the banana plantations to take lunch to the workers, and we would be bathed by the chemicals being sprayed. Now we suffer blindness, cancer, allergies, abortions and our children are born deformed." These are the words of a woman describing the situation in her community.
To produce these perfect bananas, plantations depend on high levels of agrochemical use. The silence in the plantations exemplifies the deadly impacts of this type of banana production. There are no bird songs or animal calls because there is no longer any wildlife in the plantations.

Poisoning of workers a necessary side effect:
We cannot talk about the benefits that the banana companies have brought to the people of Costa Rica without also considering what has happened to our land, water, air, culture and the social well being of all members of our "home." We must manage our resources with the goal of increasing their value for everyone in the long term, and we must not view contamination of our water, the poisoning of workers or social disintegration as a necessary side effect.

Banana Workers Win Against Dow, Shell & Standard Fruit

Nemagon causes impotence:
The pesticide, used to control burrowing rootworms or nematodes, is also known to cause impotence, depression and is suspected in increased rates of stomach cancer.

Shriveled testicles:
The nematicide was first produced in the late 1950's by Dow and Shell, which conducted toxicity tests before U.S. registration. Those early tests revealed that DBCP reduced sperm counts and atrophied testicles of rabbits and monkeys: however, neither Dow nor Shell revealed that information to government regulators.
Banned in US but used in Central America:
The product was banned in the U.S. after the California cases became public, but exports of DBCP continued. Two of the three major banana-producing companies in Central America switched to other, more expensive nematicides in 1977, but Standard Fruit continued using Nemagon.

Chiquita in Colombia: Terrorism Gone Bananas?

Banana companies ignore pesticide safety standards:
Furthermore, in defiance of the "Better Banana" pact to abide by pesticide safety standards, Chiquita subsidiaries have used pesticides in Central America that are banned in the U.S., Canada, and the European Union, such as Bitertanol sold as Baycor, Chlorpyrifos, sold as Lorsban, Carbofuran, sold as Furadan and five other dangerous pesticides and fungicides.

The Environmental Impact of the Banana Industry: A Case Study of Costa Rica

Countries reduce taxes to companies that destroy the environment:
The economic growth of such companies is mainly due to the more and more sophisticated technologies employed; this growth has also been thanks to governments eliminating or reducing taxes, together with the resulting contamination and ecological deterioration etc. An ethic is therefore perpetuated whereby people are not seen as being as important as the final product
Pesticide containers used for food and water:
The pesticide containers are not specially cleaned or adequately disposed of. Some of them have been observed in workers’ houses being used as water containers, waste bins, seats, livestock food troughs, flower pots or to store food-grains.
Agro-ecological effects of mono-culture:
The agro-ecological consequences of intensive mono-culture, the total alteration of the biological properties of the soil, and the effects of the pesticides on the natural enemies of the pests, carry a high price both in terms of the regeneration of the soil and in terms of the appearance of secondary pests.
Indiscriminate spraying kills natural enemies:
Stephens mentions that before 1950 the banana had two major insect pests but, as a result of indiscriminate spraying with Dieldrin, populations of the pests’ natural enemies were eliminated and there were eleven plagues in one decade.
Fungus develops resistence to chemicals:
The resistance of pests to pesticides is becoming a more and more frequent phenomenon. Until some years ago, Benomyl was used with success in the control of black sigatoka. At the present time, it is little used owing to the resistance of fungus to this fungicide.
Contamination of bananas:
In Costa Rica, severe contamination of the soil, phyto-toxicity, pest resistance, the generation of new pests and contamination of bananas with toxic residues has been reported.
Chemical cocktails irreparably contaminate soil:
An example of the soil’s loss of organic properties produced by mono-culture is to be found in the South Pacific region of Costa Rica, where thousands of hectares of fertile soil are contaminated by the excessive use of a cocktail of chemicals. The damage to the soil in areas of formerly great agricultural potential has been diagnosed as almost irreversible. An investigation by Thrupp (1988) revealed that the content of copper used in the majority of lands used for agriculture normally contain between 20 and 50 parts per million, and that, in contrast, the soils of the banana plantations of the South Pacific exceed any normal limits, and can be as high as up 4,000 ppm.

Battling the Banana Baron: Rural Hondurans fight Chiquita

Chiquita bulldozed a village:
Caught by surprise, most Tacamiches lost everything except the clothes on their backs. An onslaught of 500 troops and over 400 Chiquita employees pounced on the village and made 100 arrests. They bulldozed everything: subsistence crops, homes, the school, three churches, the health post, kitchen utensils, books, bedding, tools, and radios.
Honduran bribes:
In 1975 the Chairman of the Board, Eli Black (Chiquita), got caught bribing (Honduran) President Arellano and other Honduran officials $1.25 million to lower banana export taxes. With the lower tax, United Brands saved 7.5 million in the first year alone.
3,500 sterilized workers in Costa Rica:
Twenty-five-thousand plantation workers from 12 developing countries are currently suing Chiquita and other companies for using DBCP, a pesticide that causes cancer, birth defects, and sterility, years after the U.S. banned it from the United States. According to a lawyer representing the workers, Chiquita's use of the pesticide sterilized 3,500 male banana workers in Costa Rica, Panama, and the Philippines.

Nicaragua: Poisoned Plantations

Within the past 25 years, 103 former plantation workers in Nicaragua and their offspring have reportedly died and 22,000 are seriously ill as a result of regular contact with the toxic fumigant, which is now classified as "extremely hazardous" by the World Health Organization.

Banana Link: Social and Environmental Impacts
There is a “race to the bottom” being pursued in the banana industry as companies relocate from country to country in search of ever cheaper bananas. But somebody has to pay a cost for food to be ‘cheap’ and in the case of bananas this cost is being paid by hundreds of thousands of workers, small farmers and their communities.

Co-op America, Responsible Shopper: Dole profile

Dole's image revolves around the health and nutrition of its food, but nowhere does the company mention the poverty and ill health suffered by agricultural workers to bring Dole goods to the world. In Central America Dole's reputation for destruction derives from the poisoning of thousands of workers by the dangerous pesticide dibromochloropropane, also known by the brand names Nemagon and Fumazone.

banana worker, Honduras That is a Dole sticker on those bananas

And now, just for the gag factor, go to Dole's corporate site and have "Bobby the Banana" tell you how healthful and nutritious the bananas are and how they are washed twice to remove " the dust from the field." They fail to mention the numerous chemical sprayings and the girl in the respirator painting poison on the bananas just before they are boxed up.

There are hundreds of other sites with stories similar to those above. The same or similar stories apply to the pineapple fields and the fresh flower fields as well. They may not be using Nemagon anymore, but they are still endangering their workers, neighbors, lands, and water with chemicals.

Oh, by the way, the few workers in Honduras who won a settlement on the wrongful use of chemicals received around U.S $100 each.

To take a line from one of the sites:

If you aren't outraged by now, you're not paying attention.

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