Bananas

What Can You Do?

What Can You Do?

Buy Organic!
    In 2004, less than one percent of bananas sold in the US were organically grown, but according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, that number is growing approximately twenty percent annually.1   Fungicides and insecticides consume over 35% of the total costs of banana production, so although the only major difference between traditional and organic banana harvesting is the amount of synthetic chemicals used, organic banana production proves to be a much more sustainable practice.  Although the price of organically grown fruit is generally about 30% higher than typical produce, $.99 a pound is certainly not unaffordable, and it would be beneficial for Americans to “go organic” when it comes to banana shopping.  Organic bananas may not look as perfect as those produced with pesticides, but their quality is no different.  As long as a demand exists for unblemished fruit, the suppliers will spend the extra money on chemicals to give us what we desire.  In the long run, it is only individual consumers’ preferences that will make a difference, and if more people buy organic bananas, more organic farmers is what will result.  Buying organic is an easy transition to make, and a relatively simple way to reduce the negative impact our eating habits are having on the environment in some of the most productive and valuable ecosystems in the world.
    
But Buying Organic Won’t Solve Everything…
    While buying organic does make a real difference, unfortunately, it won’t solve all the environmental or social issues related to the banana economy.  Organic bananas are farmed by the same companies that farm regular bananas (Chiquita, Del Monte, and Dole) and the only difference is that they aren’t sprayed with fungicides and pesticides.  Every acre of land put under organic production does mean less hazardous chemicals entering the environment and less illness on the part of the workers; however, it doesn’t lessen the other environmental costs associated with the industrial-scale production and transportation of bananas, and it doesn’t translate into better treatment or wages for banana workers.  Since bananas aren’t typically grown in the U.S., one can’t buy them locally (and avoid the environmental costs of transporting them thousands of miles to our supermarkets), and if Americans were to stop buying bananas entirely that would mean the termination of the jobs of many dependent people who have very little other potential to make money. The complications that have arisen around the banana industry are some of the most difficult situations today in the global food industry.
   
    In this situation, the average consumer has arguably little power.  While there are limits to the benefits of buying organic, it is, however, a start.  Consumers can also choose to encourage their government officials to voice these concerns in hopes of bringing about change:  governmental regulations and trade agreements ought to be modified to ensure more environmentally responsible practices in the growing of bananas, and fairer treatment of banana workers.  Chiquita and Del Monte are publicly traded companies, and therefore shareholders do hold a formidable amount of influence over the companies’ actions and the ethics of their business.   No individual can be expected to solve such problems on their own, but what you can do as the consumer is “vote with your wallet”.  Fruit companies are still companies, and they depend upon consumers to maintain their practices.  By being informed and purchasing reasonable amounts of products from companies with ecologically and socially sound practices, you can help improve the environment and society for future generations to come.

1Mlot, Christine. “Greening the World’s Most Popular Fruit.” National Wildlife, Feb/Mar2004, Vol. 42 Issue 2, p18-19.