Chiquita SECRETS Revealed; Environment; “The one thing that (the
Enquirer) asked me that I hedged on was how much did Chiquita pay
you, CI (Conservation International), to do this study. I said I’ll
have to check, even though I actually know… I don’t feel that it’s
really any of his (the reporter’s) business.” — James Nations,
Conservation International; Some pesticides highly toxic
Publication: Cincinnati Enquirer
Date: May 3, 1998
By: CAMERON MCWHIRTER AND MIKE GALLAGHER
Chiquita uses products with low EPA toxicity classification for
mammalian and aquatic life,” the company stated to the Enquirer
through its attorneys. However, the Enquirer found numerous examples
on Chiquita’s own list of approved pesticides of products that have
been designated by U.S. government agencies as possibly cancerous to
humans, or toxic to animals or fish.
Those pesticides, all used by Chiquita and its subsidiaries in
aerial spraying in Latin America, include:
Propiconazole, sold as Tilt: Propiconazole has been classified by
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a “possible human
carcinogen.” According to published documents by the U.S. Department
of Agriculture, Forest Service, the pesticide “can cause skin
irritation and substantial, but temporary, eye irritation. The
petroleum solvent in some formulations can cause a chemical
pneumonitis (lung complications) if breathed into the lungs.
Prolonged inhalation of vapors may irritate throat and nasal
passages and cause central nervous system effects, which can include
headache, dizziness, confusion, and nausea. If swallowed, abdominal
pain, nausea, gastritis, breathing difficulty, or diarrhea can
The department recommends workers exposed to the chemical wash hands
“before eating, drinking, chewing gum, using tobacco or using the
toilet. Do not get in eyes, on skin, or on clothing. To avoid
breathing vapor or spray mist, wear a NIOSH(National Institute of
Occupational Safety and Health)-approved organic cartridge
Azoxystrobin, sold as Bankit: The EPA has ruled this new product is
“highly toxic to freshwater fish and invertebrates, highly toxic to
estuarine – marine fish, and very highly toxic to estuarine – marine
The product labels, observed in Chiquita storage facilities in
southeastern Costa Rica, read clearly “MARINE POLLUTANT” and bear a
symbol of a fish with an “X” through it.
Benomyl, sold as Benlate: This pesticide, classified by the EPA as
possibly cancer-causing for humans, has been in wide use in the
United States and around the world for years. But the pesticide has
come under increasing attack from people who claim it has harmed
In 1989 and 1991, manufacturer E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company,
known as DuPont, recalled a dry version of the pesticide, Benlate 50
DF, after American farmers reported severe crop damage after using
the product. The company faced several lawsuits in Texas, Hawaii,
Florida and other states. In 1996, a Florida jury awarded $4 million
to John Castillo, a boy born with no eyes. His mother, while
pregnant with him, was accidentally drenched in the pesticide on a
Florida farm. The jury found both DuPont and the farm negligent.
That farm was not connected to Chiquita and did not grow bananas.
Chiquita uses the wet, soluble version of the pesticide.
Thiophanate-Methyl, sold as Topsin: The U.S. Department of
Agriculture found the pesticide to be moderately to highly toxic for
various types of fish. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found
that the pesticide is hazardous to 10 endangered species in the
The pesticide was listed as a possible carcinogen for humans,
according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was also found
to damage the thyroid gland. The department has ruled that people
not wearing protective equipment cannot return to a field sprayed
with thiophanate-methyl for at least 12 hours.
Tridemorph, sold as Calixin: Tridemorph is a hazard to fish,
according to the EPA.
Mancozeb, sold as Dithane: Mancozeb is “moderately to highly toxic
to fish and aquatic invertebrate animals,” according to the Forest
Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The department
recommends “Do not apply when weather conditions favor drift (wind
carrying pesticides away) from treated areas. Do not apply in a way
that will contact workers or other persons, either directly or
through drift. Drift and runoff may be hazardous to aquatic
organisms in neighboring areas.”
The department recommends that workers not enter treated areas for
24 hours after spraying.
Chiquita SECRETS Revealed; Environment; “They don’t want us doing
any research. For example, water pollution. It is better (for a
company) to suspect that the water is polluted than to know that the
water is polluted.” – Professor Luisa Castillo, Costa Rica’s
National University Pesticide Program; Industry resists curbs, but
Publication: Cincinnati Enquirer
Date: May 3, 1998
By: CAMERON MCWHIRTER AND MIKE GALLAGHER
Commercial banana growers like Chiquita use numerous pesticides to
combat fungus, insects and other pests that could destroy the fruit.
And they use those pesticides often.
The reason is simple. Bananas sold in the United States or Europe
are almost all one type: the Gran Cavendish, the large banana that
consumers have grown to expect. On miles of plantations from
Guatemala in Central America to Ecuador thousands of miles to the
south, the fruit is genetically identical.
Because the tropical plants are planted in close proximity and come
from the same genetic source – a system known as “monoculture”
farming – an outbreak of pests, fungi or disease can quickly wipe
out a plantation.
It would be as if scientists cloned one person who was likely to get
a disease. If that person got the disease, soon all of the clones
would catch it as well, unless they were given massive amounts of
medicine. In the case of bananas, you use pesticides.
“You’re creating an extremely artificial situation. You’re creating
a situation that is ripe for some kind of a pest or fungal problem
to sweep your plantation,” said Dr. Thomas Lacher, Jr., an associate
professor at Texas A&M’s Department Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences
and co-author of a recent article on risks to the environment by the
He said the multinational companies, including Chiquita, use
pesticides now that are dangerous and toxic or “pretty hot” when
But these pesticides don’t just go on the plants. Applied by air or
by workers with backpack sprayers, pesticides drift through the air.
They get into the soil and onto workers, villagers and animals.
Scientists and environmentalists stress that the industry’s
pesticide problem is not endangering the consumer, but endangering
the workers and villagers where the bananas are grown.
“What makes you ill or can even kill you as a worker may not affect
you as a consumer,” according to Colorado State University Professor
Douglas Murray, author of Cultivating Crisis: The Human Cost of
Pesticides in Latin America.
Over the decades, the banana industry has faced a series of problems
related to the use of pesticides. One of the most highly publicized
cases involved Dibromochloropropane, known by the acronym DBCP,
which was widely used in the 1970s to combat tiny parasitic worms
that attack the roots of the banana plant.
DBCP, through improper application and toxicity, allegedly caused
sterility in male workers, according to lawsuits filed in U.S.
courts. By 1997, more than 24,000 banana workers, mostly in Costa
Rica and many of them employees of Chiquita or its subsidiaries,
signed up for class action law suits against the manufacturer, Dow
Chemical, and users of the pesticide, including Chiquita.
The lawsuits stated that many men had become sterile and medical
evidence linked their sterility to the pesticide. The companies,
including Chiquita, which said it used the chemical only in the
early to mid-1970s, have fought efforts to get the case tried in a
U.S. jurisdiction. In June, Dow Chemical offered $22 million in a
global settlement – which worked out to a few hundred dollars per
“We continue to dispute our liability,” Dow Chemical spokesman Dan
Fellner told the Enquirer. “Unfortunately, many of the users and
purchasers of DBCP did not read the labels or follow the
The plaintiffs accepted the offer from Dow, but cases against the
banana companies are pending.
“If we ever get in a courtroom, we’ll kill them,” said one of the
plaintiff attorneys, Charles Siegal of Dallas.
In a statement issued through its attorneys, Chiquita did not
mention litigation but stated it stopped using DBCP in 1977, “two
years before the EPA banned DBCP in 1979.”
EPA records show it ordered DBCP phased out for use in the United
States in 1977. The product was banned in Costa Rica in 1978. The
EPA ordered a complete ban on the product in 1979, meaning any
product that tests positive for even a trace of the pesticide may
not be brought into the United States.
As consumer consciousness about pesticide use increased over the
years, the banana industry changed pesticides when problems were
brought to the public’s attention in North America and Europe.
For example, in 1990, the pesticide Aldicarb was banned by the EPA
after levels above EPA safety guidelines were found in potatoes
being brought to market. Later, excess levels were found by FDA
checks of some bananas coming to American ports. Quickly, the
pesticide was dropped by the entire banana industry.
Professor Luisa Castillo, head of the National University’s
Pesticide Program in Costa Rica, said she and other scientists had
complained about Aldicarb to banana growers for years, with little
result. Chiquita stated that it used the pesticide for only one
“Aldicarb was very popular, but it was causing a very high number of
pesticide poisonings to workers, and it was also causing fish kills
and other problems here,” she said. “We had already pointed out this
problem with Aldicarb, but nothing had been done. It was only in the
moment that the residue appeared in the fruit that immediately they
(growers) stopped using Aldicarb.”
Industry supporters said that banana companies don’t misuse
“Pesticides are very expensive, so you only use them if you
absolutely have to,” said Robert Moore, president of the
International Banana Association (IBA), a Washington D.C.-based
group working for the interests of the American banana industry.
Since the Aldicarb scare, the banana industry has met safety
standards for U.S. Food and Drug Administration spot checks at the
ports. According to FDA reports, administration tests from 1992 to
1994 showed traces of pesticides in the bananas sampled but rarely
in unsafe amounts. The FDA checks only a fraction of the bananas
brought into the United States. In 1996, it conducted tests on fewer
than 800 shipments. During the same period, tens of thousands of
shipments brought more than 22.3 billion bananas into the country,
according to the IBA.
Polly Hoppin, director of agricultural pollution prevention at the
World Wildlife Fund and an expert on pesticides said the FDA checks
don’t reveal much about what is going on at the plantations.
Professor Scott Witter at Michigan State University’s Institute of
International Agriculture said that most pesticides applied these
days may show up in FDA banana sampling, but virtually always within
safe amounts for consumers. But for the thousands of people working
on or living near the banana plantations, pesticides threaten their
“The people who tend to take it on the nose are the Costa Ricans or
the Hondurans or the Ecuadoreans who work on the plantations when
they are doing the spraying,” he said. “They’re in the field. Their
water supplies get contaminated. Their kids play in the dirt that’s
contaminated that day. I’ve yet to witness a really wonderful
program where they say, OK, we’re spraying today, everybody needs to
Chiquita, through its lawyers, has stated that “There is no soil
contamination problem on Chiquita farms.”
Scientists complain that figuring out how exactly pesticides are
affecting people and the environment on banana plantations is
extremely difficult, because gathering any hard data is constantly
resisted by banana companies.
“They don’t want us doing any research,” said Professor Castillo at
the Pesticide Program. “For example, water pollution. It is better
(for a company) to suspect that the water is polluted than to know
that the water is polluted.”
The large banana companies resist independent scientific studies on
their plantations, because they don’t want the public to know, she
“They are always saying that hard data can affect them in the
international market,” Professor Castillo said. “So if it is known
that there are pollution and health problems, then people won’t want
to buy the product. From our point of view, we feel we have to know
the situation in order to change it and that we hope that the more
educated consumer will change things.”
Professor Lacher at Texas A&M said he and his co-authors on his
recent paper about agrochemicals in the banana industry tried to get
the multinational companies to cooperate, but could not get anyone
to talk with them.
“We didn’t publish the industry perspective, but you can’t get
access to industry information,” said Mr. Lacher. “If everything is
proprietary, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Mr. Lacher said the industry is defensive on the pesticide issue.
“Nobody’s saying you shouldn’t grow bananas,” he said. “Nobody’s
saying you shouldn’t apply chemicals. But what you need to do is
look at what the major sources of risks are.”
Scientists aren’t the only ones feeling a cold shoulder.
Several years ago, the Intergovernmental Group on Bananas of the
United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization set up a special
committee called the Banana Improvement Project. In a 1995 report,
project officials stated that they hoped the major companies would
provide the project with money and technical assistance to tackle
difficult problems facing banana production, including Black
Sigatoka – the destructive, airborne disease that threatens the
entire banana industry and has led major companies to increase
aerial spraying on their farms.
At the Intergovernmental group’s meeting in Rome last May, the
Banana Improvement Project wrote its own epitaph in the meeting
“The lack of financial support from the banana industry is
surprising and extremely disappointing,” the report read.
Chiquita SECRETS Revealed; Environment; ‘Better banana’ program
Publication: Cincinnati Enquirer
Date: May 3, 1998
By: CAMERON MCWHIRTER AND MIKE GALLAGHER
Despite Chiquita’s promotion of the ECO-OK – “Better Banana”
certification, the program has come under increasing attack for what
has been perceived by some environmentalists and scientists as a
sell-out to corporate interests.
Chiquita quickly became a major force in the program, as the only
major banana producer to participate. While the Rainforest Alliance
has continued to try and present the program as open to everyone,
Chiquita’s participation overshadows all others, according to
scientists, environmentalists and former employees of Chiquita.
In material and advertisements in the United States and Europe,
Chiquita has been quick to use its Rainforest Alliance certification
to link its products to environmental safety. Of the 81 farms
certified on the program worldwide by January 1998, 74 – 91 percent
– were directly owned Chiquita subsidiaries.
Connie Smith, who was Chiquita’s Central American environmental
coordinator before leaving her post in 1996, said the certification
program ran into problems because banana companies were too
competitive to cooperate. Once Chiquita began to dominate the
program, the two other large companies, Dole and Del Monte, lost
interest in the idea.
“It all started out on good intentions,” said Ms. Smith, who lives
with her family in San Jose, Costa Rica. “It was going to be an
industry-wide voluntary program….But (the banana multinationals)
are big competitors….The ECO-OK became an issue of competition- If
we get the certification and they don’t that will differentiate (our
bananas).’ That should never have happened.”
The program was orginally called “ECO-O.K.,” but the alliance later
changed the name to “Better Banana.”
Ms. Smith said the connection today between Chiquita and the
Rainforest Alliance “does have a tendency to make people wonder”
about the program’s validity. She said “the program needs to be re-
Eric Holst, coordinator of the Rainforest Alliance’s “Better Banana”
program in New York, said the alliance receives no donations from
Chiquita, but it does accept corporate donations from other
companies that it is not certifying. It does charge a fee for
certification. The money is paid directly to its Costa Rican
partner, Fundacion Ambio, the group that performs the inspections
on Chiquita subsidiary farms.
Mr. Holst said Fundacion Ambio conducts scheduled inspections on
farms once a year in Costa Rica and Panama. Mr. Holst said the group
reserves the right to conduct spot checks and conducts between one
and 10 a year. No certified plantation ever has had its
certification revoked for violations. Violations are usually not
written up and are not made public, Mr. Holst said.
If inspectors find violations, plantation managers are notified and
asked to correct the problem. Specific information about the
inspections or any violations is proprietary and not available to
the public, Mr. Holst said.
This fiscal year, Fundacion Ambio has a budget of $312,000,
according to Mr. Holst. About 25 percent of that budget comes from
Chiquita’s fee payments, he said.
Mr. Holst said all of Chiquita’s subsidiary farms in Costa Rica are
certified under the Rainforest Alliance’s program. Those
certifications do not include many associate farms that sell fruit
to Chiquita. In a statement issued through its attorneys, Chiquita
stated that as contracts are renewed, it is asking associate farms
to apply for certification with the alliance. About half of
Chiquita’s subsidiary plantations in Panama are certified. Thirteen
Chiquita subsidiary farms in Colombia have also been certified.
None of Chiquita’s subsidiary farms, or the farms of its associate
growers, in Honduras, Guatemala or Ecuador are certified yet,
because the program was first tested in Costa Rica. Chiquita has
publicly committed to bringing all of its plantations into the
“Better Banana” program by 1999. Rainforest Alliance officials said
they are lining up local environmental groups in those countries to
In 1996, Chiquita paid the Washington-based environmental group
Conservation International to send a team of eight environmental
experts to visit its certified farms in Costa Rica and Panama.
In response to questions by the Enquirer, Conservation International
issued a two-page letter to Chiquita, which was then forwarded to
the Enquirer. It declared Chiquita’s environmental efforts as “an
innovative system that looks for environmental improvements in the
effects of monocultures (single-crop farms), serves as a guide for
the establishment of environmental measures, and promotes gradual
changes in land use practices. This program should be continued and
supported for its goals.”
James Nations, vice president of Mexico and Central America Programs
for Conservation International who led the Chiquita- commissioned
study, told the Enquirer that he found the certification “very
positive” and “a very above-board system.”
After the discussion with the Enquirer, Mr. Nations called Magnes
Welsh, Chiquita’s director of investor relations, according to Nov.
13 tape-recorded voice mail-message provided to the Enquirer through
a company source.
He told Ms. Welsh that “I gave (the reporter) a very positive
“The one thing that (the Enquirer) asked me that I hedged on was how
much did Chiquita pay you, CI, to do this study,” Mr. Nations told
Ms. Welsh. “I said I’ll have to check, even though I actually know.
Now, I want to know from you, and also I’m going to ask people here,
Pete and Karen (CI staffers), what they think about this idea of
actually releasing that information. Because I don’t feel that it’s
really any of his (the reporter’s) business. So let me know what you
think about that.”
Mr. Nations did not return follow-up calls from the Enquirer.
Chiquita does support other environmental work outside of the
“Better Banana” program. For example, the company is funding the
nonprofit organization Amigos de Las Aves (Friends of the Birds), a
group run by two expatriate Americans who work to raise macaws in
captivity and then release them into the wild.
The group stated in an e-mail response to the Enquirer that it
received about $20,000 so far from Chiquita, as well as weekly free
bananas to feed their birds.
Chiquita SECRETS Revealed; Environment; Death on farm shows danger
Date: May 3, 1998
By: CAMERON MCWHIRTER AND MIKE GALLAGHER
Pesticides can kill more than pests.
Take Greddy Mauricio Valerin Bustos, a worker on Plantation 96, a
farm in Costa Rica owned by Chiquita’s subsidiary, the Chiriqui
On the morning of Nov. 13, 1997, the 18-year-old had been working
since 5 a.m. collecting “piola,” the thin rope used to support the
banana plants. At about 7:30 a.m., according to the police, he was
found writhing on the ground, choking and vomiting up a white
substance. He was dead by 9:17 a.m.
Police investigators interviewed one of the co-workers who brought
his body to the medical clinic.
“He was working in an area called Los 50s, that had been sprayed
with the agrochemical Counter (the brand name for the pesticide
terbufos, an organ-ophosphate) three days ago,” Miguel Herra Miranda
told police, according to a translation of the investigation report.
“He (Mr. Valerin) didn’t have any experience in this kind of job and
he wasn’t using any protective gear like gloves and mask either.”
The autopsy report, obtained by the Enquirer, determined that Mr.
Valerin died from intoxication from organophosphates, which caused
internal bleeding and brain damage.
Chiquita, in a statement through its lawyers, said the company
acknowledged that the Costa Rican government coroner declared the
cause of death to be organophosphate poisoning. The company also
stated it operated the farm safely and the death was “an isolated
“Although Chiquita has attempted to understand the details
surrounding Mr. Valerin’s collapse, Chiquita is unable to explain
(and will not speculate) how Mr. Valerin might have died,” Chiquita
Under an agreement with the New York-based environmental group the
Rainforest Alliance, Plantation 96 is certified under the “Better
Banana” program to meet certain environmental and worker safety
guidelines. But often problems can be hard to detect because the
program requires inspectors visit plantations only once a year, with
possible spot checks afterward, said Eric Holst, New York
coordinator of the “Better Banana” program.
“That’s one of the weaknesses of certification. You can’t be there
every day,” Mr. Holst said.
As a rule, Chiquita and its subsidiaries do not provide protective
gear for workers unless those workers are directly involved in the
application or storage of pesticides. The vast majority receive no
protective clothing, though they are exposed to pesticides in their
work on the plantations.
Carl Smith, publications director and an expert on pesticide exports
at the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education (FASE)
in Los Angeles, said the use of many pesticides like terbufos are
legal in the United States but only under strict safety regulations.
When these chemicals are exported to Central America, where worker
safety and environmental laws are less stringent, the result can be
dangerous for the workers and the environment.
“When you look at conditions of use in areas like Central America,
there are a lot of compounds that are awful dangerous,” he said.
“It’s one thing if a guy is wearing a full moon suit with a
respirator and gloves. It’s another thing if teenagers are walking
around the stuff with no shirt.”
Nearby Plantation 96 is Plantation O3, a farm that has an exclusive
contract to sell bananas to Chiquita. Like other farms in the area,
the farm, owned by Proyecto Agroindustrial de Sixaola, S.A, (PAIS),
ships bananas with Chiquita labels and in Chiquita boxes. The
plantation grows bananas only for Chiquita and to contractual
specifications set by Chiquita.
In a statement issued through its attorneys, Chiquita said it was
not responsible for anything that happened on the farm, but said it
does exert pressure in its contracts to monitor safety and
“Chiquita – although it is not in any way required to do so – is
insisting that independent growers adopt Chiquita’s own strict
environmental standards and practices if they want to renew
contractual relations with the company,” the company stated.
On the farm, Enquirer reporters saw a work team applying terbufos, a
nematicide classified as extremely hazardous to humans by the World
Health Organization. Terbufos is under “restricted use” in the
United States by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Nematicides are pesticides used to kill nematodes, tiny worm
parasites that can destroy a crop’s roots. According to EPA
guidelines, once the pesticide is put on the ground, no one should
be allowed in the area for at least 24 hours unless wearing
protective clothing and a respirator.
But with the air thick with the heavy smell of pesticides, the
Enquirer team observed children from the nearby village playing in
the area amid open bags of terbufos and plants just treated with the
pesticide. No warning signs were posted and no workers tried to stop
the children from playing in the area or passing through. The
Enquirer saw signs with a warning in Spanish, “DANGER, nematicide
application in this area,” leaning against the wall of a packing
plant about a mile away.
When asked about Plantation 03, and PAIS, Chiquita issued a
statement through its attorneys declaring “The Pais farm is owned
and operated by a Costa Rican quasi-governmental institution.
Chiquita does not own or operate the farm. What the Enquirer says it
observed at Pais should not have happened.”
The company stated that it has since renegotiated its contract with
the owners of PAIS and requires the company to adhere to Chiquita
standard operating procedures regarding environmental safety.
Enquirer reporters also observed pesticide workers at Finca O3
taking off their masks because of the stifling heat. Mr. Smith of
FASE said the protective clothing is a fundamental problem in
tropical agricultural, which neither “Better Banana” nor any other
program has solved.
He said the limited safety equipment that has been created for these
materials is often heavy rubber, suitable for northern, colder
climates. In the tropics, a mask, rubber gloves, a rubber apron,
rubber boots, long pants and a sweatshirt make for incredibly
uncomfortable work days on a sweltering plantation. Such heavy
clothing itself could be unsafe because of the danger of heat
exhaustion, Mr. Smith said.
“The equipment doesn’t even exist that is suitable for tropical
climates,” he said.
Even workers who wear protective clothing properly are not safe,
workers told the Enquirer. On Cocobola plantation, owned by one of
Chiquita’s Costa Rican subsidiaries – Compania Bananera Atlantica
Ltda. (COBAL) – in northeast Costa Rica, pesticide worker Emilio
Colero, 41, told Enquirer reporters that he was concerned about his
He was issued protective clothing when he applied the ground
pesticides. But he said through a translator that “when I bend over,
some of the herbicide liquid gets on my neck. I get a rash every
time until I take a shower.”
Mr. Colero said his wife is constantly concerned about him, but he
works in pesticides because the pay is better than other field
jobs. He makes 680 Costa Rican colones per hectare, and sprays about
three or four hectares a day. That salary is about $15 a day.
Through its attorneys, the company issued a written statement that
Chiquita strictly adheres to safety recommendations of the
pesticides that it uses. The company said also that it has reduced
its use of nematicides like terbufos by more than 50 percent since
1995, “demonstrating its continuing commitment to minimizing the
environmental impact of its farming operations.”
New chemicals applied
Another problem is at Chiquita packing plants and those of
affiliates, where the bananas are brought to be boxed before
shipment. In these processing centers, the bananas are washed of
chemicals that have been applied in the fields.
After this washing process, the bananas then are sprayed with new
chemicals, either thiabendazole or imazalil or both, to keep the
fruit from rotting. As Chiquita boxes state clearly, “Thiabendazole
and – or Imazalil applied to fruit to preserve quality in transit.”
Workers then pick up these pesticide-covered bananas, usually with
their bare hands, and place them in boxes for shipment. Scientists,
union officials and workers told reporters of rashes on the arms of
women in the packing houses.
Chemical runoff from washed bananas and newly applied pesticides
also flows into water passing through plant operations and back into
irrigation canals. Those canals then flow into nearby rivers.
Chiquita stated through its attorneys that it has conducted
comprehensive tests of water running off its farms and “Chiquita
never has detected a level of pesticides that posed any threat to
the environment or people.”
The Enquirer visited packing plants on certified plantations of
Chiquita’s subsidiaries in Costa Rica. Most did not have containment
or treatment systems to remove chemicals from the water supply.
Almost none of the workers had gloves.
Thiabendazole is a fungicide that the EPA has determined is harmful
to fish. According to the Pesticide Users’ Health and Safety
Handbook, government laboratory studies have also pointed to the
fungicide as a possible cause of anemia and a possible
cancer-causing agent in mammals.
Imazalil is classified as a moderately toxic compound by the
Extensions Toxicology Network, a cooperative information group on
pesticides set up by Cornell University and other universities and
funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
According to a Network document, lab animals fed imazalil have
suffered symptoms including “muscle incoordination, reduced arterial
tension, tremors, and vomiting.”
Professor Luisa Castillo, who heads Costa Rica’s National University
Pesticide Program, said the two chemicals are a major concern for
environmental scientists in Costa Rica. Scientists in her program
have conducted studies of rivers in national parks downstream from
banana plantations, some of which were operated by Chiquita.
“We have found high levels of imazalil and thiabendazole in the
water, and we have also found toxicity (by those two pesticides)
toward aquatic organisms,” Ms. Castillo said.
Her program’s studies have not pinpointed the specific source of
She said one of the key components of any sincere attempt to improve
the environment would be to stop those chemicals from getting into
the water supply.
“I would immediately put water treatment plants in the packing
plants and not allow that water to flow into the natural courses of
water because it is quite polluted,” Ms. Castillo said.
In a statement issued through its lawyers, Chiquita stated that it
has spent at least $3.3 million installing special chambers at its
packing plants to apply thiabendazole or imazalil to the bananas,
reducing the amount of these pesticides used and the amount to which
workers are exposed. The company stated that it has installed these
chambers on a number of its farms.
Chiquita SECRETS Revealed; Environment; Industry attacks report
critical of farm growth
Date: May 3, 1998
By: CAMERON MCWHIRTER AND MIKE GALLAGHER
A report critical of banana farm expansion for causing environmental
and social problems at the beginning of this decade was kept from
the public for years by the Costa Rican environmental ministry –
after the banana industry, including Chiquita, attacked the study.
Now that the report has been released, banana plantation owners
continue to criticize the internationally-respected group that wrote
In the early 1990s, almost 100 square miles of Costa Rican grazing
land and forests in the northeastern section of the country were
bought by banana companies like Chiquita and turned into banana
fields. According to Costa Rican government statistics, 70,740 acres
were in banana production nationwide in 1990. By 1995, that number
had jumped to 131,117.5 acres, an increase of more than 85 percent.
A Catholic bishop near the region, labor leaders and
conservationists publicly expressed concerns about the expansion’s
effect on the environment and the treatment of workers. In response,
the Costa Rican ministry for environmental affairs commissioned a
report on the banana industry from the Central American office of
the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in
1991. The IUCN, one of the oldest international conservation groups,
runs conservation projects around the world and counts agencies of
74 governments as members, including the United States, Panama,
Japan and the United Kingdom.
The 129-page report – parts of which were leaked in 1993 – discussed
various problems caused by an increase in banana cultivation.
One of the biggest problems cited was deforestation. The huge
increase meant the loss of thousands of acres of cattle farms and
more than 13 square miles of primary rain forest, according to the
Another issue was that the increase in banana plantations led to a
dramatic rise in pesticide use in an area permeated by rivers and
creeks that flow into the Caribbean, according to the report. The
new plantations also were located near many sensitive forest
preserves and conservation areas. Environmentalists were concerned
about pollution from pesticides causing fish kills and other
environmental problems, the report said.
The report also dealt with unemployment prompted by the expansion.
While workers were brought in initially to build the plantations,
many were fired afterward because it took fewer people to maintain
the farms. As a result, many people moving to a remote area of the
country found themselves unemployed.
Goal was awareness
The goal of the report was to raise awareness of these issues among
government officials, the public and the banana industry leaders.
“What we would like to see is a more environmentally and socially
aware banana industry,” Enrique Lahmann, regional director of the
But the public didn’t get to see the report for years. When some
draft findings were leaked, the banana companies declared open
opposition and set up their own commission, Comision Ambiental
Bananera, to coordinate the industry’s response.A new administration
came into office in 1996 and the report was released in early 1997.
Asked if the government endorsed the report, the Costa Rican embassy
in Washington D.C. sent the Enquirer an old press release from
CORBANA, a state-owned banana company, condemning the report. Asked
if that represented the government’s position, the Costa Rican
embassy referred all questions to MINAE, Costa Rica’s environmental
department. That agency did not respond to repeated phone calls, e-
mails and fascimile transmissions.
In its 1997 official statement on the final IUCN report, the
commission reiterated its longstanding recommendation that “the
(environmental) minister must not endorse the diagnostic report as
an updated document” and suggested that it only be considered “an
historical document” (translation). If the document was not
considered updated, it could not be considered by the environmental
ministry in its policy decisions as relevant to the banana industry
today, the statement said.
Mr. Lahmann said powerful American banana interests have operated in
Costa Rica for more than 100 years, and their political influence
was applied to hold the report for years.
“There is no question that the banana industry has a lot of weight
in national politics in Costa Rica,” Mr. Lahmann said.
Chiquita officials refused to be interviewed by the Enquirer about
this project, including the IUCN report. Through attorneys the
company released a statement that it never tried to keep the report
from the public. The statement condemned the IUCN report as
“unbalanced” and “not based on scientific method but, instead,
solely on casual observation.”
The research team was comprised of 16 scientific and academic teams
looking at different aspects of the expansion like pesticide use,
agro-ecology, legal issues, social impact, refuse, economics and
forestry. The “environmental diagnostic” included analysis of high-
grade maps of the region as well as satellite photographs.
The teams made numerous visits to the region to interview workers,
conservation groups, medical personnel, local government officials,
health ministry officials and environment ministry officials. The
teams also held numerous talks with administrators from all the
major multinational companies, including Chiquita’s main Costa Rican
subsidiary, Compania Bananera Atlantica Ltda. (COBAL).
“I don’t think that it is unscientific. Well-known professionals
participated in the report,” said the IUCN’s Mr. Lahmann, who has a
Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Miami and who is an
expert in wetlands pollution.
Mr. Lahmann said that while the IUCN came under a lot of criticism
from the banana companies, the report helped raise awareness of
environmental issues in Costa Rica.
“I wonder if that would have happened without this report,” he said.
Chiquita dismissed the IUCN as “a confederation of environmental
The IUCN is a federation of conservation groups and government
agencies with several important U.S. institutions as official
members. These members include the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of
Oceans, International Environment and Scientific Affairs, the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
Forest Service and the Nature Conservancy.
Conservation International, which Chiquita itself described as a
“highly respected independent environmental organization” when it
paid the organization last year to critique the company’s own
environmental program, also is a member.
Chiquita also said the IUCN would not endorse the report. Mr.
Lahmann said preliminary drafts carried a label that the opinions
expressed in the report were those of the consultants during
discussion. Once the environment ministry officially released the
report this year, it was endorsed publicly by the IUCN, according to
While Chiquita stated that it had nothing to do with keeping the
IUCN report from the public, the company has kept an environmental
report in Honduras from public review.
In 1995, the Honduran Centro de Estudios y Control de Contaminantes
(the Center for the Study and Control of Contaminants) audited the
banana industry throughout Honduras, including Chiquita plantations.
Dr. Luis Munguia Guerrero, CESCCO’s director, said the audit found
serious problems on Chiquita’s farms, but he said he could not
release the report because of a confidentiality agreement signed
with the company. He said, however, that Chiquita could release it
if it chose. The Enquirer asked Chiquita to see the report.
The company declined to release it. In a response issued through its
attorneys, it stated that “CESCCO conducted an initial audit of the
banana industry in 1995, identifying several general areas in which
improvement was needed … For its part, Chiquita has taken
affirmative steps to address issues raised in the 1995 CESCCO