Monday, 7 November 2011

Husking Spanish Strawberries - Part 1 of 2

It is not unusual to be emailed countless messages concerning different scientific, social, political or even economical topics. Some of these forwarded messages I already know them profoundly whenever they reach my mailbox. For others, I just don't care or simply refuse to waste my precious time on them. However, now and then some important issues reach my eyes, like the one I am to discuss hereby with the audience of this blog.

A few weeks back I got an email from a friend who is actually working in Spain. Because I do not know how the person would feel if I was to disclose her name in this post, I prefer to say that she is science educated and an excellent professional in her area. Nonetheless, that does not immediately trigger me to write about the numerous subjects that hit my box. The subject has got to be interesting, important to this blog's context and remarkably pertinent. By then, I thought it wasn't; not until I got the same email sent from my mother, who is not science educated, but still, is a very educated professional in areas that are not immediately science related. This made me realise that if the content of that email had been pinned up by different people, with different professional and social backgrounds, in different countries, relevance and pertinence were immediately accounted for to my standards, obviously!

The message entitled "Poison in the Spanish strawberries" had to be revealed, analysed, discussed and shared with my audience. So I will just translate to English the content of the forwarded message and expect to draw the initial deck of cards in a discussion that I hope becomes more interactive:

"When you happen to buy strawberries always mind to check their origin. If they are Spanish... be aware of the consequences they'll have on your own and your family's health status, the consequences on strawberries, on other people and the environment. 

Are the Spanish greenhouse strawberries edible?

The answer is NO!

... if the only problem of these greenhouse strawberries was just the lacking of flavour, we could consider ourselves happy... Unfortunately, these strawberries offer much more serious problems, starting with the fact that this culture covers around 6 thousand ha, where a huge part happens to be in a Protected Reserve Area - Parque Nacional de Doñana - an extraordinary sanctuary for migratory and nesting birds. Nevertheless, the local political power ignores it widely.

For these strawberries to reach their destination in the European markets, they need to be  transported by trucks and vans for thousands of kilometres. Around 16 thousand lorries complete this route every year. Considering an average of 10 tons per vehicle, these strawberries worth their weight on CO2 generated and toxic gases produced and released to the environment, thus affecting people.

But the dangers associated with these crops aren't only the ones stated before. Is the reader aware of how the Spanish strawberries are actually cultivated?

The strawberry plant is a vivacious plant capable of producing fruit for several years. However, the strawberry plants destined for this type of production are destroyed every year. For giving strawberries even when it's not their season, plants produced in vitro are put in refrigerators during the Summer's Peak, in order to simulate Winter Season, thus activating production. During the Autumn, the sandy land is cleaned and sterilised, and the microfauna destroyed by means of bromomethane (methyl bromide) and chloropicrin.

Bromomethane is a powerful poison prohibited by the Protocol of Montreal on gases that are toxic for the ozone layer. Chloropicrin, composed of chlorine and ammonia, it's not less dangerous for it blocks the pulmonary alveoli. 

The strawberry plants are grown in a soil covered by black plastic and the irrigation used includes fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides. The water comes from artesian wells from which more than half is assembled in an illegal fashion.

All these factors are responsible for transforming Andalusia into a dry savannah, causing the exodus of migratory birds and the extinction of the last of the Pardel Lynx felines, since these little carnivores (from which only around thirty may yet subsist in the region) feeding off of rabbits - also animals on the verge of extinction there.

On the other hand, for finding adequate place for the strawberry plants, at least 2000 hectares of forest have been devastated.

Production and exportation of these strawberries cropped in Spain starts slightly before the end of the Winter season and ends up around early June. Workers, at that specific time, need to go back to their houses or anywhere else, for if they get sick due to the noxious substances inhaled before, they will have to seek for treatment on their own expenses.

Most of the producers of these Spanish strawberries make use of Moroccan manpower, seasonal workers, sometimes clandestine workers, poorly paid and housed under precarious conditions. For heat at night during Winter, these workers burn the plastic used for covering the strawberry plants.

Anyway, every single year at the time of the end of the cropping, the 5 thousand tons of plastic used are taken by the wind, buried somehow, anywhere, or burned on the spot...

Needless to say that in this part of Andalusia, where aberrant agriculture thrives, lung and skin diseases are in frank progression. And who cares about it? No one!

And what is the reasoning behind the media's complete silence? Mysteries that are not only due to politics but also to economics.

But when the region becomes totally vandalised and the production becomes costly, the producers will just transfer everything to Morocco; country where they have started to settle. Later on, they will probably just move on to China... European population is happy for buying cheap products, however they will eventually fall ill for consuming these products, as well as see employment raising.

What can we do for fighting this tendency?

Each one of us is free to act in his own conscience and knowingly: to buy or to boycott the purchasing of any article that is not brought up according with the laws of nature and/or human rights. We all can opt for a personal boycott. And if the majority of the citizens thus proceed, the gigantic "sharks" in the economy will be forced to change their methods under penalty of presenting themselves to danger.

Citizens are to make the final choice!

Kind regards,

Mario Pinto

The previous text was translated by myself from the Portuguese and reflects entirely the opinion of the person hereby signing the message. However, by presenting this information I intended solely to open the discussion that in a biochemical toxicological perspective will be fully developed in part 2. See you then!

1st image taken from Fresh Plaza, Global Fresh Produce and Banana News,, last visited on the 07th of November 2011, last update on the 02nd of January 2008.

2nd image taken from Viagens Lacoste, Parque Nacional de Donana - fotos soltas,, last visited on the 07th of November 2011, last updated on the 30th of April 2010.

3rd image taken from unknown source.

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