Spotlight on McDonald's pesticide problem | Pesticide Action Network
Reclaiming the future of food and farming

Spotlight on McDonald's pesticide problem

Lex Horan's picture

Eight months and counting after the Toxic Taters Coalition kicked off its campaign, McDonald’s is still dodging the issue of pesticide drift. The corporation has made plenty of public promises to cut pesticide use on its potatoes, but so far the fast food giant has been short on follow-through.

So last week, Toxic Taters took the message straight to McDonald’s in a coordinated day of action to keep the issue front and center. PAN collaborated closely with the grassroots Toxic Taters Coalition and many other organizations across the country — and we’re happy to say that the day of action was a big success. There were 16 in-person events around Minnesota, with solidarity call-in actions fanning out across the country in support of communities impacted by pesticide drift.

Taking it to the franchises…

Toxic Taters

In Minnesota, I responded to phone calls and tweets from our partners across the state, while photos and updates streamed in from all sixteen events. In Northfield, a group of students from St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges held actions on campus and then trekked together to the local McDonald’s where they had conversations with store management and passers-by.

A few hundred miles north, Toxic Taters members gathered in Park Rapids — not far from a potato processing plant owned by RD Offutt (RDO) — and held a lunchtime rally.

Bundled against the late October cold, Toxic Taters supporters struck up conversations with and handed out informational flyers to people passing by. At each event, local organizers walked into a McDonald’s restaurant to deliver a letter to the manager and voice concern about the company’s potato pesticide problem.

...and flooding the phone lines

A powerful wave of phone calls to the corporate customer service line backed up the in-person actions at McDonald’s franchises. All over the country, Toxic Taters supporters picked up the phone last Tuesday and asked the question that McDonald’s still hasn’t answered: What about pesticides?

As it turns out, the McDonald’s PR team was ready for the calls and many of us heard the same script. Customer service representatives stated clearly that “the company remains committed to taking steps to reducing pesticide use in potatoes and is in the midst of auditing the agricultural practices of its potato producers.”

Of course, this answer wasn’t enough for me, or for other callers who are really concerned about the impacts of pesticides. I asked the employee I talked with: “Will the information from the audit be publicly available? When? What concrete steps is McDonald’s taking to not only audit pesticide use, but decrease it?”

The woman I spoke with took down my name and phone number. I hope to hear a meaningful response soon.

Less spin, more follow-through

This sounds like more of the same from McDonald’s and RDO: crisp company talking points without any real action. For all the fuss that McDonald’s has been making about transparency recently, some real transparency about pesticide use would be a breath of fresh air. Carol Ashley put it this way:

“Our campaign, Toxic Taters, is calling for full transparency about what goes into McDonald’s french fries – and that means pesticides too. We’ve been asking McDonald’s and its potato growers to release information about the pesticides used on their potatoes for years, with no response. … We want a firm commitment to cutting toxic pesticide use and full transparency about the pesticides that are applied in our communities.”

Two international companies — RDO and McDonald’s — with more than their share of influence in the world potato market, have a lot of power at their fingertips. The expectations of the Toxic Taters campaign are clear, we want McDonald’s and its potato suppliers, like RDO, to:

  • Achieve measurable and significant decrease in use of health-harming pesticides.    
  • Release information on the chemicals they apply to their crops.   
  • Fund an independent human and ecological health study on the regions impacted by potato production.    
  • Adopt environmentally sound, sustainable agriculture practices.  

Clear enough, right? I hope it’s not long before McDonald’s and RDO change gears from PR stunts to good faith efforts and address the concerns of family farmers, White Earth tribal members, and other rural residents who are tired of being exposed to hazardous pesticides. But until they do, we’ll keep the pressure on.

Lex Horan
Share this post: 

Lex Horan is PAN's Midwest Organizer. He is based in PAN’s Minneapolis office, where he organizes alongside Midwest communities facing the harmful impacts of pesticides. He works on campaigns to protect bees from pesticides and to stop pesticide contamination in large-scale potato production. Follow @LexAtPAN