Monday, December 1, 2008

Koeppel Interview Part 2

Back in early October, I had the opportunity to interview Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed Our World. Over the next few days, I'll be posting the interview in digestible chunks, but if you want to read the piece in its entirety, it is available in both the print, and online versions of the current Wheatsville Breeze.

Do you think that as the situation worsens for bananas future, that companies like Chiquita will publicly acknowledge the plight of their product? If so do you feel that this will assuage consumer fears that they will lose this staple product?

Chiquita for the very first time about a month ago, mentioned Panama Disease, in a media interview with a reporter in the Cincinnati Inquirer. Panama disease is the disease that has destroyed banana crops in Asia, and throughout much of the world. It’s the incurable disease that threatens the banana crop in Latin America. It has yet to hit Latin America. It most certainly will come sometime in the next thirty years. And, when it comes, assuming that no cure is found, there’s been a fifty year search for a cure, and none have been found, and it’s not likely that one will be found, it will almost certainly wipeout the crop of Cavendish bananas, which is the only kind we eat. It is the only kind that people find in markets, whether they’re organic, fair trade, whether those markets are large supermarkets, co-op or anything. It’s the only export banana available, for the most part.

Chiquita did acknowledge that this disease existed. It was the very first time in over fifty years, that a big banana company acknowledged it. Unfortunately, the acknowledgement was basically to say, “It’s not a problem, we know that it exists, it’s not coming. But if it does come, um, we know what to do. But it’s not a big deal.” Totally wrong. What they said they would do, basically, they were going to quarantine their farms. Now, quarantining farms, which is basically building a fence around them, by using clean farming techniques, has never worked. Australia, which is a first world country, and presumably has the ability to build strong quarantine measures, recently tried to quarantine its farms against Panama Disease, and utterly failed. Chiquita will not succeed with that, and I’m not the only person saying that. Plant pathologists, and banana scientist agree with me on that.

Acknowledging is a good first step, but the banana industry, when the first round of Panama Disease wiped out the earlier breed of banana that Americans grew up on -- starting around 1900 until 1960 -- when that breed was wiped out, quarantine measures were tried, banana companies were in denial, and its being repeated. So, I don’t think the banana industry really understands what’s happening, and what will be happening to it in the future. I don’t think that it’s the end of the banana as a commercial product, I think that there’s a lot of hope.

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