Do you like McDonald’s french fries? Do you like the Offutt School of Business? Do you like Minnesota farmers? I hope you answered yes to at least one of those questions. Though the scope of those three things seems pretty broad, there is a significant correlation between them that should be noticed. So, if you answered “yes” to any of those questions, keep your eyes and your mind open on Tuesday, Oct. 6. The Student Environmental Alliance will be in the atrium participating in a Day of Action in collaboration with the organization Toxic Taters.
If you’ve never heard of Toxic Taters, it is a coalition that started in 2005 and consists of family farmers, rural community members, and indigenous people in Minnesota that call for safer, healthier, and more sustainable potato production in central and north central Minnesota. The organization specifically focuses on pesticide drift from potato farms. Pesticide drift is the movement of sprayed pesticides beyond the crops they’re intended for and into the air we breathe. In 2009, McDonald’s said they would take steps to reduce pesticide use in their potato supply, which is great, but it is necessary to hold them accountable for making progress with these commitments. The Day of Action suggests ways to make process by encouraging McDonald’s to do the following:
1. Require that its potato suppliers, like Ronald D. Offutt company, 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 independent human and ecological health studies on the regions impacted by potato production
4. Ensure that its potato producers adopt environmentally sound, sustainable agriculture practices.
So why should that matter to us? Well, the largest potato grower in the world and one of McDonald’s leading potato suppliers is Ronald D. Offutt. He is a Cobber grad and a large funder to our school, namely to the Offutt School of Business. Without his generous donation, we might not have the nice accommodations we have in the business school, so for that I say thank you to him.
However, I think it is especially important to know where that support comes from. RDO is one of the largest suppliers for McDonald’s french fries. Almost all of the potatoes grown in our area are produced by RDO. Many people that surround the areas of these large potato farms have suffered from health issues related to breathing in pesticides used on the potatoes. This has affected not only the air for the people around these areas, but also the wildlife, water, and environment surrounding the farms. Practices such as these are an issue for not only the environment, but also the health of the local people affected by pesticide drift.
I don’t believe Ron Offutt is a bad person or that potato farming is bad. What I do think is that RDO as an organization could do a lot more than it already is to implement sustainable practices and to limit pesticide drift. Perhaps these changes will raise the price of the french fries we eat, but I also don’t think that is bad. Internalizing the costs of our actions can help us recognize what we are consuming.
So be brave. There is so much more to talk about and I hope this article made you ask questions. If it did, please come to the SEA table on Tuesday and ask questions about what this Day of Action means. Learn about some personal stories of people who have been affected by pesticide drift and about ways to move forward. Making positive changes takes many people.
If you’re interested in learning more, visit the Toxic Taters website at www.toxictaters.org.
Erica Bjelland is a senior Global Studies and Environmental Studies double major hailing from Decorah, IA. She likes to keep her iCal full by being co-president of the Student Environmental Alliance (SEA), a member of the President’s Sustainability Council and Student Government Association, and a bassist in the Concordia Orchestra. When she’s not living off her calendar, Erica spends time learning guitar, running, drinking coffee, fan-girling over Aldo Leopold, and discovering new ways to cook black beans.