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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Saving the little apple

Was I the only one to find this feature in the Guardian disturbing? There has been a huge amount of debate and discussion about the impact of big corporate companies on food markets, often centring on the buying power of McDonalds. Now it seems that the company is to branch out into apples with a corresponding effect on the small apple grower.

Gary Younge writes 'McDonald's, the company that built its success on fries and burgers, now buys more apples than any restaurant chain in the US. This also gives it enormous power over growers - which could lead to fewer varieties and fewer small producers.

.....The chain's influence could alter for ever the method and scale of production, the varieties of apple produced, and the rights of the thousands of workers who pick them, and not necessarily for the better.

"McDonald's makes a huge impact, not because they are deliberately out to screw the food system, but because they are so massive, and because they demand a uniform product," says Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, a damning critique of the industry.

With 13,700 restaurants in the US, McDonald's is one of the country's biggest employers: roughly one in eight Americans is estimated to have worked for the company at some stage in their lives. It is already the largest buyer of beef, pork and potatoes, and the second-largest buyer of chicken. With volume comes clout: last year, at an apple-marketing conference organised by the US Apple Association, McDonald's director of quality systems announced that if growers wanted to work with the company, they would have to cultivate more of two varieties of apple in particular: cameo and pink lady. Already, the cameo crop in Washington state is 58% larger than it was last year, according to growers in Yakima Valley.'

The market place has always dictated what is grown and of course, agriculture needs to adapt to current trends. However, this sort of buying power will kill variety and choice and hand another key sector to the suits.
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