I was looking at the pineapple on my counter this morning and it called out to me to be sliced open and eaten. It’s been home a few days, picked up on a recent trip to Sam’s Club. It’s a great fruit – juicy, sweet, fat free, low in sodium, loaded with vitamins B and C, fiber, and more. Trying to be more mindful of what I consume, I noticed the tag wrapped around its neck, identifying it as a Venicia Gold Extra Sweet Pineapple, a product of Costa Rica, from the Banacol company.
Costa Rica? I thought these things grew in Hawaii!? Well some do. Yet the pineapple is native to Paraguay. It made its way to other places by Indians carrying it across the seas. Eventually, a variety called MD-2 was developed in Hawaii in the 1960s as a less acidic and sweeter version, and is what most of us eat today. More recently, Dole brought the variety to Costa Rica, where the conditions are right for growing the fruit, land and labor are cheaper too. Costa Rica is now the world’s largest pineapple exporter. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Costa Rica’s fresh pineapple exports to the U.S. increased from $80 million in 2004 to $372 million in 2007. The U.S. accounted for 52% of Costa Rica’s1.8 million metric tons of pineapple exports in 2005, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. All while Hawaii pineapple growing is dwindling fast.
Banacol ships its pineapples 2100+ miles via cargo ships from Costa Rica to Chester, PA near Philadelphia. And it’s not easy; pineapples are fragile, need to be picked right before shipping, and then require refrigeration storage (46-50 degrees F) for the journey. Banacol says it has the capacity to ship 7 million boxes, each weighing 25 pounds — that’s 87,500 tons. Greenhouse gas emissions to transport the fruit, first on ships and then on trucks, is significant. Using the Greenhouse Gas Protocol calculations, that equates to 17,500,000 kg of greenhouse gas emissions per year. Are you coughing yet? Well you might be after you learn that part of typical pineapple processing is a decontamination wash of hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid. And according to the Miami Herald, in 2008 authorities found small amounts of Bromacil, a pineapple pesticide in a local aquifer. Despite government reassurances that problems are fixed, there is ongoing uncertainty as recently as a year ago that some water problems remain – referenced here, here, and here.
Amazingly I am not the only one thinking about pineapples and their source. Just the other day, Whole Foods made a big deal about Costa Rica pineapples as part of the “expansion of its ethical sourcing program in Costa Rica, which puts the leading natural and organic foods supermarket at the forefront of responsible pineapple sourcing in the U.S.” Whole Foods wants its shoppers and investors to know that is is serious about fair trade, “To earn the Whole Trade Guarantee seal, growers must be certified that they ensure fair wages and safe working conditions while caring for the environment. Through Whole Trade products, Whole Foods Market supports positive change in the developing countries where it sources products. Additionally, one percent of Whole Trade purchases go to the Whole Planet Foundation to help fight poverty in developing countries.” Whole Foods claims to have checked out the local conditions in Costa Rica, and now offers a “Whole Trade Pineapple” with a “Whole Trade” guarantee.
So we shouldn’t feel guilty about buying pineapple grown so far away. It won’t grow in my yard or yours. And why should we live without this delicious fruit? It’s a choice we have to make. Do I feel better knowing the facts? Not sure, but I will ponder the question over a slice of pineapple.