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Pesticide Action Network

Rural Residents Urge McDonald’s To Phase Out ‘Toxic Taters’

February 20th, 2014

Linda Wells, Pesticide Action Network, (612) 284-5023
Bob Shimek, Toxic Taters Coalition, (218) 204-1632

Rural Residents Urge McDonald’s To Phase Out ‘Toxic Taters’

Groups call out McDonald’s French fry production for poisoning rural communities in Minnesota and throughout the Midwest with pesticide drift

Park Rapids, MN – Today, a coalition led by residents of rural Minnesota announced that they are taking on McDonald’s – calling on the country’s largest potato buyer to keep the promise it made in 2009 to reduce pesticide use in the production of their famous fries.

The new campaign, Toxic Taters, is the result of years of community air monitoring and advocacy. After several years of working behind the scenes with state agencies and the region’s largest potato producer, R.D. Offutt Company (RDO), the Toxic Taters Coalition is taking a more public approach to the problem of pesticide drift.

RDO has farming operations in twelve states, including Minnesota, North Dakota, and Oregon. The potato producer sells to some of the nation’s largest potato buyers, including McDonald’s, the largest buyer in the U.S. McDonald’s buys about 7.5% of the domestic potato market each year, amounting to more than 3.4 billion pounds of potatoes in the U.S. alone. The fast food giant is known to have a powerful influence on potato growing practices.

“We have been to the legislature, to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, to RDO, and very little has changed. We’re not lovin’ it,” said Bob Shimek, a leader of the Toxic Taters Coalition. “It’s time to move forward. It’s time for McDonald’s to take responsibility for the communities negatively impacted by their business.”

The coalition has been working with Pesticide Action Network (PAN) since 2006 to document pesticide drift using the Drift Catcher air monitoring device. A report released in 2012 showed several chemicals drifting from nearby potato fields. It focused on frequent air contamination by chlorothalonil, a chemical listed by the EPA as a probable carcinogen. Samples were tested from several towns including Waubun, Park Rapids, Perham, and Frazee. Of those samples, pesticides were detected in more than 66%.

“For years, communities near potato operations have faced an ongoing assault of highly hazardous pesticides,” said Linda Wells, Associate Organizing Director for Pesticide Action Network. “Luckily, there are alternatives. Potato growers all over the country, and right here in Minnesota, are farming with fewer pesticides. By raising their standards for their potato producers, McDonald's can join this momentum and help safeguard the health of rural residents nationwide.”

McDonald’s responded to the Drift Catcher data in 2009 with a public promise to reduce pesticide use in the production of its potatoes. Since then, the company asked its producers to participate in a survey of integrated pest management (IPM), but has not shown any progress towards reduction. Instead, McDonald’s launched an ad campaign promoting its potato growers’ practices.

“It just doesn't seem right that people can't have safety from other people's chemicals on their own property,” said Carol Ashley, a leader of the Toxic Taters Coalition and rural resident from Park Rapids, MN. “We believe that growing food can be done in a way that doesn't harm people or the environment.”

The Toxic Taters coalition has not seen change on the ground in Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has responded to the controversy by revising the Best Management Practices (BMPs) for fungicides in potato production and conducting a public comment period about the issue. The agency will be releasing new BMPs for production this year.

Today the Toxic Taters Coalition is launching a website, a video, and an online petition, all targeting McDonald’s. Several organizations have signed on in support of the effort, including the Indigenous Environmental Network, Food and Water Watch, MPIRG, and Pesticide Action Network. The coalition announced that they are kicking off their campaign with a statewide speaking tour to call attention to the issue of pesticide drift in Minnesota and to pressure McDonald’s to take action.

The coalition is asking McDonald’s to require that its potato suppliers – like RDO – achieve measurable and significant decreases in the use of health-harming pesticides, to release information on the chemicals their producers apply to their crops, and to ensure that its potato producers adopt environmentally sound agricultural practices.


Additional Resources
Toxic Taters website
MN Drift Report
Pesticide and Children’s Health Report


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