Last Tuesday, I spent the evening in Bemidji, Minnesota with the Toxic Taters Coalition. Under the lofty wood ceilings of the Rail River Folk School, a group of local residents gathered, seated in a semi-circle of old cinema seats, listening attentively to stories from potato country.
The gathering in Bemidji was the third event in the Toxic Taters Coalition’s statewide speaking tour with the goal of building support for safer potato fields across the state. By raising the profile of pesticide contamination from conventional potato production, Toxic Taters is turning up the heat on fast-food giant McDonald's and one of its primary potato suppliers, R.D. Offutt Company (RDO).
McDonald’s held its annual general meeting (AGM) last Thursday. If shareholders wanted a quiet meeting, they sure didn't get it! The company’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, was packed: 2,000 fast-food workers, clergy, parents and food system activists poured into town with a thing or two to say to McDonald’s.
The Minnesota-based Toxic Taters Coalition — a longtime partner of PAN — was one of several groups with a message to deliver to the fast-food giant. Toxic Taters delivered a petition with more than 20,000 signatures, calling on McDonald’s to cut pesticide use on potatoes, work with a third party certifier to transition to sustainable practices, increase transparency about pesticide use and fund a public health study in areas impacted by potato production.
A few weeks ago I heard Dr. Marla Spivak give a “State of the Bees” address to a packed auditorium in Minneapolis. At the end of her presentation, an audience member raised his hand and asked: “What state is doing the most to protect bees?” Dr. Spivak only paused for a moment before answering, “Well, I’d have to say Minnesota.”
Dr. Spivak may be biased, since her Bee Lab is based at the University of Minnesota (and I guess I could be too). But I think she’s onto something: Minnesota is getting a move on protecting its pollinators.
The last of the late spring snowstorms are winding down here in the Midwest, and it won’t be long before corn goes into the ground. With corn-planting, of course, comes atrazine applications. And though atrazine doesn’t get much use in the colder months, this winter hasn’t been a quiet one for the notorious herbicide and its manufacturer, the Syngenta Corporation.
In the last few months, investigative reporters in the U.S. and Canada have highlighted Syngenta’s desperate scrambling to discredit atrazine’s critics. Recent pieces in major outlets like the New Yorker and Canada’s 16 x 9, building on important findings first published in 100Reporters, have pulled back the curtain on Syngenta’s PR machine for a broader audience. The message? In the pesticide industry, spin is half the business.
Last Wednesday morning, thirty people braved the cold to swarm a Minneapolis Home Depot, asking the store to “show bees some love” on Valentine’s Day.
Babies in bee suits, beekeepers on bicycles, and a slew of other Minnesotans were eager to urge home garden stores to stop selling bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides — and plants pre-treated with "neonics." Retailers like Home Depot have a unique opportunity to act as industry leaders by taking these products, known to endanger bees, off their shelves.