Pine forests to potato fields: the saga takes a surprising turn

The Grand Forks Herald published a good update on the conversion of Minnesota forestland to potato fields by McDonald’s French fries supplier, R.D. Offutt.

In light of McDonald’s recently released sustainability plan and endorsements of the plan by SierraRise and the Union of Concerned Scientists, I wrote to Don Williams, McDonald’s Director of Government Relations, Central Division, Global Government & Public Affairs. This is the email I sent:

Minnesotans have been asking me about your newly release sustainable sourcing plan with the title “Comprehensive Plan Addresses All Products; Reaffirms Sustainable Sourcing Priorities.”

Many of us got an announcement from the Sierra Club that McDonald’s “America’s biggest fast food company just announced a new commitment to eliminate deforestation from its ENTIRE supply chain!”

The Union of Concerned Scientists announced, “We did it! McDonald’s goes deforestation free.”

I am a Minnesota State Representative who has been extremely concerned about the conversion of pine forest to potato fields in Minnesota by McDonald’s biggest French fry supplier especially since the forests are over an almost pristine aquifer. I have detailed the issues involved in three letters to your president. Yet despite your very public commitment, the Grand Forks Herald just updated the issue with absolutely no indication that your French fry supplier was going deforestation free.

What shall I tell Minnesotans?

Jean Wagenius, State Representative 63B

I feel safe in assuming that neither the Union of Concerned Scientists nor SierraRise was aware that R.D. Offutt, McDonald’s French fries supplier, has been clear cutting forests in Minnesota and converting the previously forested land to intensive potato production. I have emailed both of them.

However, unless their assertions that McDonald’s is going “deforestation free” and that it is committed to “eliminate deforestation from its ENTIRE supply chain” cover McDonald’s French fries supplier, they are not accurate. The announcements list products that McDonald’s procures through its supply chain with the clear implication that those are the only products that are currently dependent on deforestation.

While the Union of Concerned Scientists and SierraRise were likely not aware of the deforestation practices of McDonald’s French fries supplier, McDonald’s is well aware and has been aware since at least August 29, 2013. I have sent McDonald’s president three detailed letters; the first one is dated August 29, 2013. McDonalds Letter 1McDonalds Letter 2McDonalds Letter 3

Additionally our Minnesota media have so thoroughly covered “pineland-to-potatoes” that the public relations department at McDonald’s could not have missed the continuing saga.

Bottom line, why didn’t McDonald’s tell the Union of Concerned Scientists and SierraRise about the deforestation practices of one of its core suppliers before accepting the accolades and endorsements of their organizations?

Our ever vigilant North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club is contacting the National Sierra Club.