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Pesticide Action Network

Potatoes, pesticides & people

In early October, thousands of concerned community members across the country joined PAN, Toxic Taters, Corporate Accountability International (CAI) and other allies to participate in the “Farm to Family: Pesticide Free” National Week of Action.

The goal of the seven days of concentrated activity was to make an invisible problem visible, and stand with rural communities in potato-growing country to demand that McDonald’s deal with its pesticide problem.

McDonald’s continues to source potatoes grown with drift-prone pesticides that put the health of nearby rural and Indigenous communities at risk. As the largest potato buyer in the country, the corporation can influence the market tremendously. The coalition is calling on the fast food giant to use its purchasing power to require that growers use safe, sustainable practices to produce potatoes.

Do we have your attention yet, McDonald’s?

Over 7,500 individuals across the country pledged to take some form of action during the first week of October. A downloadable toolkit provided guidance on online and in-person tactics to engage with McDonald’s over the course of the week. Some highlights include:

  • More than 20 in-store actions across the U.S., with community members delivering letters to local store managers.
  • A “Twitter storm” producing over 1,000 tweets directed at McDonald’s and CEO Steve Easterbrook – which led to Mr. Easterbrook blocking Toxic Taters on Twitter.
  • Toxic Taters’ first-ever webinar hosted by award-winning radio host Melinda Hemmelgarn and featuring speakers from Toxic Taters, #MomsNotLovinIt, Mamavation and PAN.
  • The national petition asking McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook to make changes to McDonald’s potato-purchasing practices now has over 13,000 signatures.

The video below was filmed outside of a local McDonald’s in Minneapolis, Minnesota during the week of action, and features PAN Organizer Lex Horan speaking on rural communities in northern Minnesota impacted by pesticide drift.

Beyond drift – an inside look

Hearing about the plight of rural communities facing potato pesticide drift spotlights other ways in which McDonald’s exercises influence over communities and families.

For PAN’s policy fellow Adriana Murguia, it sparked memories of growing up with a parent employed by McDonald’s, and the different ways the corporation infiltrated family meals and life. She recounts:

Growing up, not only did my siblings and I attend McTeacher’s nights at the McDonald’s two blocks away from our elementary school, but my mom later became an employee there. What always stood out to me was that at employee appreciation parties my mom was always given a booklet with McDonald’s coupons. The coupons were for new menu items so she could get these items for free or gift them to friends and family. For my mom, this meant having a means to purchase free snacks or meals after finishing up a late shift at work.

When times were tough and my mom wasn’t working enough hours, she would utilize her 50 percent employee discount available to her on her days off in order to stretch out meals while she was in between paychecks.”

Adriana’s story highlights McDonald’s strategy of marketing directly to employees. From boosting sales of new menu items through employee coupon books to making it increasingly difficult for workers to afford healthier food options with low wages and irregular hours, McDonald’s has undue influence over many aspects of their employees’ lives.

Curbing corporate influence, together

The “Farm to Family: Pesticide Free” National Week of Action reflects the energy mobilized to urge McDonald’s to fix its pesticide problem, and is a great launching point for a broader conversation about how best to support the many battles to improve McDonald’s impact on communities and families.

Lex’s post leading up to the week of action touches on some of these efforts. CAI, for example, is working to put an end to McTeacher’s Nights in LA, while Fight for $15 is pushing McDonald’s to provide employees a living wage and the right to organize in the workplace (their next day of action will feature actions at McDonald’s across the nation). Other groups are focusing on removing McDonald’s outposts from hospitals and bringing attention to sexual harassment in fast food restaurants.

And the work pressing the fast food giant to live up to its promises on pesticides continues. If you haven’t already done so, please sign the national petition asking McDonald’s to reform its potato-sourcing practices. Through collaborative action, we can loosen this corporation’s grip on our health and our families — because pesticide drift doesn’t make for happy communities or happy meals.

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Pesticide Action Network

Pesticide Action Network is dedicated to advancing alternatives to pesticides worldwide. Follow @pesticideaction

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