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McDonald's Taken to Task for Low Wages, "Toxic Taters"

PHOTO: In its "No Toxic Taters" campaign, a coalition of citizens and environmental groups says McDonald's isn't doing enough to reduce pesticide use by its potato producers. Photo credit: Evelyn Giggles.
PHOTO: In its "No Toxic Taters" campaign, a coalition of citizens and environmental groups says McDonald's isn't doing enough to reduce pesticide use by its potato producers. Photo credit: Evelyn Giggles.
February 21, 2014

SEATTLE – Fast-food giant McDonald's is getting it from all sides this week.

Some of its Seattle-area restaurants were targeted in a McPoverty boycott on Thursday, protesting low pay for workers.

And in the Midwest, a coalition of citizens and environmental groups has launched No Toxic Taters, a campaign to get McDonald's to do more to reduce pesticide use by its potato producers.

Under pressure from shareholders, McDonald's laid out a plan in 2009 to use fewer pesticides. But rural Minnesotan Norma Smith says nothing's changed so far at the spud farms near her home.

"They are still spraying the fields every five to seven days, all summer long,” she relates. “Still planting next to places where a lot of us live, when we have no choice about it."

McDonald's says 29 percent of the potatoes used for its fries and hash browns come from Washington farms.

In response to the No Toxic Taters campaign, the chain says it's working with its suppliers on more diligent use of all inputs, including pesticides.

Another person urging McDonald's to change its practices is Robert Shimek of the White Earth Reservation in central Minnesota.

Shimek says between pesticide drift and contaminated groundwater in his area, people have almost become accustomed to the negative effects.

"It's normal to be sick,” he says. “It's normal to have these peculiar types of cancer. It's normal to have immune system disorders in many of these communities, because it's just been going on for so long and crept in so gradually that people think it's a normal way of living."

Research in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives says skin, lung and intestinal irritations are linked to some types of pesticide drift, with the most acute reactions among children.

Shimek hopes the No Toxic Taters campaign will prompt people to become better educated about the consequences of pesticide use.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA