Not Lovin' Drift

Have you ever felt frustrated by a neighbor’s use of lawn pesticides that don’t stay contained in their yard? Imagine this neighbor sprays every five days during the height of the growing season in order to maintain the spotless green landscape, regardless of drift into your yard or even the neighborhood school yard. You have asked, but your neighbor won’t tell you or the school exactly what is being sprayed. Undoubtedly, parents and community members would be more than concerned.

This scenario is actually playing out in northern Minnesota, except the neighbor is not a home-owner spraying a lawn; but a large-scale agricultural business spraying tens of thousands of acres of potatoes. For over ten years local community members have raised their voices about the potentially harmful effects of the trespassing chemicals being sprayed by the largest potato producer in the country, R.D. Offutt Company (RDO). 

Potato fields in Minnesota are aerially sprayed with pesticides every 5-10 days.  This helicopter reloads during an application session. 

And the chemicals do trespass. Air testing in the areas surrounding RDO’s farms has confirmed pesticide drift of more than a mile, including onto the grounds of a local school and onto grazing pasture for flocks of sheep. The pesticide most commonly found in the air near RDO’s farms is a fungicide called chlorothalonil  (pronounced klor-o-thal-o-nil), classified by the EPA as “highly toxic” when inhaled and a “probable” carcinogen. Chlorothalonil is applied to 83% of potato acres in Minnesota, with an average of 9.9 applications per year in each field. Of the other four most commonly used pesticides for potatoes, two are known to cause cancer, one is a probable human carcinogen, and one negatively affects the nervous system.

You might think, “What can I do? I don’t live in Minnesota and I buy organic potatoes when I can.” But, you can do something. The biggest customer of RDO potatoes—in fact the largest potato purchaser in the country—is McDonald’s. You eat RDO’s “toxic taters” every time you stop for a Happy Meal or a Big Mac and fries.

In 2009, McDonald’s pledged to reduce the use of pesticides on its potatoes. But residents in Minnesota’s potato-producing regions have seen no signs of pesticide reduction in their area. The Toxic Taters Coalition, consisting of small farmers who raise crops or livestock near RDO, local Native American tribal members, and other families and community members, is now asking you to reach out to McDonald’s. The Ecology Center and people across the country are calling, tweeting, and hand-delivering letters this week in support of the Toxic Taters Coalition’s efforts for food grown in ways that are healthy for us all. You can too! 


Take Action! 

Here’s what the Toxic Taters Coalition is asking of McDonald’s:

1. Require that its potato suppliers — like RDO — achieve measurable and significant decrease in use of health harming pesticides.

2. Require its potato producers to release information on the chemicals they apply to their crops.

3. Fund an independent human and ecological health study on the regions impacted by potato production.

4. Ensure that its potato producers adopt environmentally sound, sustainable agriculture practices.

Sign the letter to McDonald's CEO, Steve Easterbrook!



Published on October 4, 2016