Don’t Eat Driscoll’s Plasticberries!

May 28, 2024  |  by Alexis Baden-Mayer
Organic Consumers Association

Last week, we alerted you to the problems in Mexico caused by Michoacán’s avocado cartel clearing forests & stealing water so we can eat Wholly Guacamole. (If you haven’t yet, take action here.)

But, as I learned preparing that alert, it’s not just avocados. Driscoll’s berries are also driving deforestation & water theft in Mexico.

In Michoacán, the surface water available for irrigation is limited and contaminated, but the cultivation of berries for export requires irrigation with clean water, so Driscoll’s dug at least seven deep wells—illegally—leaving its neighbors without water.

This year, before it rained a bit on May 28, the area around Michoacán’s Lake Pátzcuaro, the most famous lake in Mexico, had gone 92 days without rain.

Without water, picturesque Lake Pátzcuaro turns into a desert and you can almost walk to the iconic island of Janitzio, as you can see in this viral video by the YouTuber El Purépeche.

(The Lake Pátzcuaro basin is home to the Purépecha people and the heartland of the Tarascan state, which rivaled the Aztec Empire before the Spanish conquest.)

The farmers around Lake Pátzcuaro blame the water scarcity on Driscoll’s and former Michoacán governor Silvano Aureoles who they say gave Driscoll’s government machinery to clear the land and drill the wells. The farmers claim that Aureoles profited personally from deals he made with Driscoll’s.

Governor Aureoles promised special security to the berry producers and legal certainty so that they would continue their production. Today, all the land where the strawberries are grown is protected by heavily armed people.

“White guards, they call them, they bring large-caliber weapons, they have intimidated many of us, they have tried to uproot us,” a farmer quoted in 2021 by El Sol De Morelia said.

The farmers who protested Aureoles were hopeful that the new governor, Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla, would stand up for his people against the multinational, but just like Aureoles, he has facilitated Driscoll’s expansion.

In 2022, Bedolla helped Driscoll’s open its 15th refrigerated warehouse and packing plant in Mexico.

In 2024, Driscoll’s invested $1.7 million in an expanded strawberry nursery in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, Mexico. It also has nurseries in Puebla and Tlaxcala. Check out the photos from their launch. Does it look anything like a farm to you? A plastic farm maybe.

Driscoll changed the USDA Organic rules so it could grow organic berries like this, too, in plastic with no soil!

Driscoll’s photos show how their strawberries are grown in Michoacán… in containers. There used to be forests and farms here. Now it might as well be a parking lot. This type of agriculture shouldn’t exist at all, but it’s better suited to a city than the countryside.

Avocado plantations can’t provide habitat for wildlife and they sap water resources unlike the native pine-oak forests, but at least they’re trees growing in the ground! This Driscoll’s berry nursery doesn’t have a blade of grass growing on it!

All of this started with the North American Free Trade Agreement. Before Driscoll’s and Hormel Foods’ Wholly Guacamole could move in, 4.9 million family farmers had to be shoved off their land. Not only did this open up farmland in ideal climates, it created a steady flow of landless peasants available for farm work. According to a study by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, from 1991 to 2007 some 4.9 million family farmers were displaced. Some found work with big exporting agricultural companies like Hormel and Driscoll’s, but there was still a net loss of 1.9 million jobs.

The Mexico Solidarity Project warns against buying Driscoll’s berries, even if they’re certified Fair Trade. In 2015, tens of thousands of Driscoll’s farm workers went on strike for three months. They did win some demands, but conditions quickly reverted to “normal.” Later that year, SINDJA (Sindicato Independiente Nacional Democrática de Jornaleros Agrícolas) was formed. A groundbreaking “Boycott Driscoll” campaign stretched across borders, from San Quintín to Washington state. Farmworkers in Washington state won a historic contract on a farm selling to Driscoll’s — but SINDJA remains without a contract. It was after that strike that Driscoll sought a partnership with Fair Trade U.S.A. to repair its public image and prevent future disruptions to its operations.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Driscoll’s to stop growing plasticberries with sweated labor and stolen water!

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