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The Dark Side of McDonald's World-Famous Fries

There's no doubt that McDonald's french fries are, as the company regularly trumpets, "world famous." But like many who are touched by fame, those legendary taters have a dark side that remains largely hidden from public view. And this dark side has nothing to do with the obesity crisis.

McDonald's purchases more than 3.4 billion pounds of potatoes grown in the United States every year. The company's preferred variety is Russet Burbank. While certainly delicious to the "billions served," the problem with this 130-year-old variety is its susceptibility to rot and other diseases, which means farmers regularly employ a significant amount of pesticides on their crops.

Rural communities in northern Minnesota that live near potato farms that supply the Golden Arches have had enough. They have become victims of "pesticide drift," in which the wind carries sprays and dusts away from the farms where they are used to other regions, negatively impacting public health, the environment and other crops. In Minnesota, where 98 percent of the state's 50,000 acres of potatoes are sprayed with chemicals to prevent the growth of fungus — as often as every five days during the height of the growing season — pesticide drift is a major problem. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to 10 percent of agricultural pesticide sprays drift from the target crop.

According to air quality tests across several Minnesota counties conducted between 2006-2009, a third of air samples test positive for one or more pesticides, including probable carcinogens like chlorothalonil and pendimethalin, chlorpyrifos (which has shown to disrupt nervous system development in children), PCNB (a probable carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor) and 2,4‐D (a possible carcinogen that puts male farm workers who use the product at risk for abnormally shaped sperm).