Why The Banana Business Of Chiquita And Dole Is At Risk
Americans. Love bananas, we, eat more of them than any other fruit we, even bicker about the proper way to eat them it's, not brown what. Is that color oh that. Crunch right there. Basically. We've gone bananas for, bananas. Specifically. We like this banana the, Cavendish there. Are hundreds, of varieties of bananas, but, the Cavendish, is the only one widely available in, the u.s. in. 2018. Alone the u.s. imported, about 2.2, billion dollars worth of the Cavendish or about, ten point five billion pounds, but. There's a problem a deadly. Fungus that, targets the Cavendish is spreading, around the world the. Fungus and the disease it causes go by a few names most often tropical, race 4 or TR, 4 and Panama, disease but. Whatever you call it the result is the same the, fungus actually infect through the roots gets, into what's known as that corn which is a big bulb at the bottom and then gets into the vascular, tissue and. The first symptom is it's usually a very characteristic yellow, leaf just one leaf, very quickly after that the plant dies bang-bang. Indeed, no Cavendish, plant can survive once, infected with Panama disease it. Hasn't yet arrived in Latin America the region that supplies the u.s. with 97%, of its bananas, but, experts agree that it's only a matter of time it, is spread across oceans to continents. And if, you look at the map it's coming to Latin America there's no question, about that all. It takes is one person to transfer, this on their shoes and then we've got an epidemic and, it's gonna sweep through the American, production, system like, fire this. Is troubling, news for banana fans and for the three American, companies that dominate global, banana, sales as of, each company's, most recent, public filing bananas, comprised significant. Portions, of their sales but. The worst part we can't stop it we, know this because Panama, disease has, already destroyed the banana industry once, before. Bananas. Are like the most boring mundane. Object. On earth like, it's just a banana this is Dan Koppel, author of this book about bananas, yet. Behind, the banana is this amazing, fascinating. History it's like science it's its culture. Its its, its bloodshed, its murdered, it's music, that's everything, we'll, get to all that but. Let's start here how. Did a tropical, fruit become so popular in places where it hardly grows the.
U.s. Imports, the second largest number of bananas behind, the European Union, but banana agriculture, barely exists, in either place a dwindling, amount in Hawaii and a moderate amount in the Canary Islands to, understand, bananas, improbable domination. We have to go back to the beginning. Bananas. Were first cultivated here, on this tiny island 3,000. Years ago they, migrated, with humans across Asia the, Middle East and Africa becoming, a staple everywhere, they went Arabic. And European, scholars even bickered, over whether the famous fruit that tempted Eve was not an apple but a banana, bananas. Arrived in the Americas in 1516. When a Spanish priest brought them from the Canary Islands to the Dominican, Republic from. There they spread throughout the rest of the Caribbean, bananas. Are fragile and rot within a week of being picked in the early half of the 19th century the, small amount that managed to make it to the US were sold as an expensive, luxury food, but. After the Civil War bananas, became a huge craze between. 1871. And 1901. The value of the bananas imported, to the US increased, from 250. Thousand dollars to 6.5 million dollars, and in the ten years after that US consumption of bananas nearly tripled from 15 million to 40 million bunches, so many. Banana ships arrived at these docks on Manhattan's, Lower East Side that they became known as the banana docks this. Shift is thanks to these three entrepreneurs by, 1899, they had formed a banana importing, business called United, Fruit Company that. Might not sound familiar but, its modern name will, Chiquita. But. Back then it was United, Fruit and, huge so. Huge that it gained the nickname el Pavo or the, octopus, for the stranglehold it developed on Central America so. Huge that the US government, repeatedly brought antitrust, action against it so. Huge that understanding, bananas in the first half of the 20th century means understanding United. Fruit. United. Fruits business model relied on economies, of scale I mean the banana really is an impossible, export, fruit I mean it's fragile you, know it ripens quickly, it gets rotten fast and the way to do it is to, make it so cheap that, your money is made on volume, keeping. The retail price low meant keeping the costs to produce those bananas, very low but, transporting, a delicate tropical fruit across thick jungles, or hurricane, stricken oceans was not a recipe, for rock-bottom, production, costs, United. Fruit managed, this by tightly, controlling every aspect of the supply chain first. United. Fruit acquired huge, swaths of land in Latin America in exchange, they constructed, railroads, and telegraph lines. Infrastructure. That locals could use but that remained, under company control, during the, heyday of its operations. It was generally, the largest landowner. In any of these countries at, one point it. Controlled, almost. 20%. Of, all arable, land in Guatemala, for example second. United, Fruit squashed, competition, with price wars or buyouts, becoming a virtual monopoly by the early 20th, century the. US government, brought antitrust, lawsuits, against, United Fruit multiple, times in 1909. The government, forced the company to sell the 50% of shares it owned of one of its last remaining competitors, the. Company's previous owners, regained control and later renamed their business Standard fruit remember. That name it later became dole, but. The most controversial, aspect, of united fruits early history was its treatment of local plantation, workers in. Order to produce a bananas, very profitably. You. Have to keep wages extremely. Low, and so, the, plantations. Historically, have resorted to extremely, repressive labor, conditions, in order to suppress, wages, workers, often protested. These conditions, but United, Fruit took drastic measures to squash rebellion, measures, that often involved military, action, either from local governments, or from the u.s. itself, in. 1928. Workers, from united fruits plantations, in colombia went on strike United. Fruit encouraged. The government of Colombia to suppress the strike that, December the, workers were told they could meet with the regional governor in the town square to discuss their demands then instead the. Colombian, army mounted, machine gun, nests, on all the surrounding, buildings and, gunned. Down it's. Estimated up to 3,000. Civilians in cold blood including, and many women. And children and elderly people and so the national, governments, are the ones that were, mainly involved. In the suppression of strikes but, they were acting. Very, much, at, the behest, of United, Fruit and when, local governments, couldn't or wouldn't step, in the u.s. itself did. The. US Marines, landed. Repeatedly. In Central, America the US government, was determined, to prevent any sort of communism, from taking hold in the Americas, when, banana workers on united fruit plantations.
Protested. For unions, or rights it raised fears of communism fears, that many historians argue, were more of a convenient excuse, than a legitimate threat sure. The accusation. Always, flung at union organizers. Or human rights activists, was, that they were acting, under communist, auspices, it was a very convenient, way of. Dismissing. Those movements and rationalizing. Extreme, political, and military measures, against, them they, sort of lost sight of the fact that they were a banana company, and not sort of the political, communications. Arm. The anti-communist. Campaign, I mean it sounds crazy but it's really true perhaps. The most notorious example. Is that of hawk oboe Arbenz in, 1950. Arbenz won the presidency in Guatemala, on a promise, to redistribute, unused, United, Fruit land to poor Guatemalans, the, company sounded, the alarm which quickly reached the White House thanks to a few well-placed company. Executives, Allen. Dulles who, was a lawyer, worked for United Fruit the board member of United Fruit was, the brother of John Foster Dulles who was the, Secretary of State in the Eisenhower administration, and. So. When, United, Fruit perceived. Its interest to be threatened. In Guatemala, there was a direct communication of, that threat from united. Fruits managers, on the ground in Guatemala, to Allen, Dulles in turn, to his brother in turn. To, President. Eisenhower who. Then directed. CIA. To. Lead a disinformation. And. Destabilization, campaign. Against our vets one which, resulted. In his being overthrown and exiled and and which, ushered in literally, two generations. Of military governments. Extremely. Repressive governments. In, Guatemala. United, Fruit called this a decidedly, favorable, development, in its 1954. Annual, report. Chiquita. Declined, to comment on these allegations. However. The company released a corporate social responsibility. Report that, acknowledged, allegations. Of the company's participation. In the Arbenz coup and other events they, noted that this casts, a shadow even today over, the company but that times have changed and so has our company. If. This, seems like a lot of work for bananas that's because it was but, back in the US they, were becoming an extremely, popular snack, the, American, public was largely unaware, of United fruits tactics, abroad but at home they fell in love with bananas, thanks to the company's extensive advertising. Efforts to. Name just a few in 1924. The company, added coupons, for bananas, to boxes of cornflakes to encourage consumers to eat the fruit with cereal, in 1939. The company distributed, free, books to grade schools filled, of course with information, on bananas, in, 1944. They unveiled their most iconic marketing. Success miss. Chiquita. You. Know the big question is why like. What, Andrew Preston the founder of United Fruit what made him think this like easily. Rotten expensive. To ship, weird-looking. Fruit. Could. Be sold for almost nothing to people, who didn't know what it was how, to eat it that weird-looking, fruit, was gold for United Fruit in 1920. The company had net profits, of 33, million dollars or about. 419. Million in 2019. Dollars I mean. It was just just, a miracle a miracle that was you know bought obviously, in blood and and horror but it was absolute. Marketing, genius there's no question, about it. In short bananas, kicked off lawsuits, advertising. Innovations, protests. Who's in violent, suppression but. These bananas, were not today's Cavendish. These, are gros michel, bananas, a related, species that is bigger and tougher than the Cavendish and with a slightly different taste they're. Also the first banana rendered, commercially, extinct, by Panama, disease before. We get into that some, science gros, michel bananas were all genetically, identical the, same is true of today's Cavendish, which is why bananas look the same no matter where you buy them, business-wise. Identical. Products are good companies, can standardize transport systems and cultivate loyalty and Trust among consumers but.
Biologically. They're, bad. Monoculture. Is is always an issue in agriculture. The problem is is that if, you're growing all the same material, all of these are going, to be susceptible to the same disease so. When the deadly fungus first, appeared in Panama, in 1903, it made short work of United, and standard fruits products, over, the next 57 years Panama, disease wiped out virtually, every gros michel plantation, in Latin America both, standard, and United, Fruit knew of the disease since the early 1900's, but they dealt with it differently United. Fruit clung to the gros michel hoping it could outrun the disease by starting new plantations, on fresh land demand. For bananas was skyrocketing but. The ability to grow bananas in South and Central America was, declining, the disease was actually creating, this avaricious need for land that. Method only worked for so long by. The early 1920s banana, shortages, were such a noticeable, problem, that musicians Frank, silver and Irving Cohn wrote this hit song in which a fruit stand vendor repeatedly. Informs his customers, that he's out of bananas. By. The 1950s. The grow Michelle's future, looked grim even. The strategy, of stealing. Land as the, disease was chasing was was, running out of gas because, there was not, enough land to meet the, demand for bananas United, Fruit went into freefall from, 1950, to 1960, annual, revenue fell from 66, million to 2.1. Million, meanwhile. Standard, fruit couldn't afford to constantly, buy new land so in the late 1920s, it began searching for a banana with the taste look and resistance. To Panama disease to replace the dying grow Michelle it, eventually landed on you, guessed it the, Cavendish. Standard. Fruit grew the first commercial, Cavendish, in 1953. On a plantation, in Honduras, it spent the rest of the decade figuring, out how to transport, them Cavendish. Is very fragile but a grow Michelle was never shipped in boxes it was just thrown in bunches in ships but, by boxing, them and using gas to preserve that to keep their ripening in check they, were able to ship. This and grow, them at, low prices, this puts standard fruit leagues ahead of United, Fruit when the latter finally, adopted the Cavendish in the early 1960s.
In That time just that ten year span standard, fruit which became dull had, managed to get a 50% market share so Chiquita, never really recovered, to this day other, than chiquitos decline the switch to the Cavendish went smoothly enough nearly, 60 years later most, Americans, happily, consumed the Cavendish unaware, of its lost predecessor, for, the next few decades the industry, hummed along much as it had before just. With a different banana, standard. Fruit became dole and United, Fruit became Chiquita, together. With Delmont a and the Irish based company, fiefs they dominated, global banana exports, controlling, two-thirds in the 1980s, but the many problems faced by banana workers continued, more, than can be detailed here notably. In 2007. Chiquita, admitted, to paying a violent Colombian, terrorist, group to protect its banana workers from 1997. To 2004, and in, the mid-1990s, Chiquita. Kicked off a trade war with the year Union over its legislation, that favored bananas from former EU colonies. Chiquito. Lobbied the US government, to file a complaint with the newly formed World, Trade Organization, the ensuing, trade war called the worst transatlantic. Economic, dispute since world war ii by a 2005. Harvard, Business Review article dragged. On until 2012. Even. With all this nothing, changed for American, consumers bananas. Reliably, appeared, on supermarket, shelves around the nation for dirt cheap prices, an average, of about 55, cents per pound since 2000, but this. Brings us back to the beginning of this video Panama. Disease. In. The 1980s the banana industry's, old foe reappeared, banana. Biologist, Randy plotz first identified, it in the early 90s. The. Strain of the fungus that wiped out the gros Michel was called tropical race one or tr1, Cavendish. Is immune to that but, it isn't immune to a different, strain of the same fungus, tropical. Race 4 or, TR 4 think. Of them like different, strains of the flu this. Is very much a surprise people. Thought that animal, disease would not be a problem on condition, it. Is foreign. Teen efforts contained the fungus in Southeast Asia for a while but, it soon spread, historically.
This Has never been a, really. Great strategy I mean if you've ever been to a banana, plantation there's thousands, of vehicles going in and out all day long there's there's no effective, quarantine, method that we've ever seen that really worked for now Latin, America is safe its oceans away from the fungus but, experts agree that the fungus is arrival, is a matter of when not if hopefully. It'll take many. Many years, but it could happen tomorrow, there's, no way to really put a timeline, on this, part. Of the danger is due to how the industry, has changed the. Giant corporate owned banana plantations, of the gros michel era have been replaced by many more exporters, operating, on much smaller plots of land in, ecuador for instance, the number of registered, banana exporters, jumped from 181. In 2011. To 333. In 2012. Experts. Worry that the logistics, of implementing, protective measures across so many plantations. Will allow Panama, disease to spread rapidly it's. Very difficult, to make a thousand, different family, farms, do clean farming, compared to one big factory, farm I think what's possible. Is that someone's, going to get into the field and then keep it a secret. And. That that would be a disaster because once it gets in waterways, and soil that sort of thing that spread some kind of an insidious manner and this, time there's no readily available replacement. No known banana has the correct taste or durability, they, dodged the bullet in the, 1950s. By, identifying, a, variety. Cavendish. I think. If there, was something out there that would have found it by now I know they put a lot of effort into screening. Material, and looking at material, and, so far they don't have a replacement even. If they did the, entire infrastructure. Network for transporting, bananas, would have to be replaced once again the entire banana supply, came from the moment the, the plant litter is planted in the ground -, the moment you, start, to peel it is designed. Just for the Cavendish, banana it's almost as though a cavity, shaped pipe from, Central America comes. To your house and it doesn't really, fit, another, banana this. Could explain why until, recently the big 3 banana companies seemed unwilling to recognize the problem I think, they're still not quite, cognizant. Of the fact that they've got this same problem happening, again, CNBC. Reached out to dole fresh, Delmont a and Chiquita, for comment a fresh. Delmont a spokesperson wrote, that Delmonte takes Panama, disease very, seriously we, continue to work diligently with.
Other Banana suppliers, and local authorities, to prevent the spread of disease also. Significant. Resources, are being dedicated for research aimed at identifying long-term, solutions, a Dole, spokesperson. Wrote we, certainly are aware of the potential danger to our supplies and vigilant, in efforts to contain the threat thus, we have worked together with, other stakeholders, in efforts to combat this problem and raise awareness of its seriousness. Chiquita. Declined to comment breeding. A Panama resistant, Cavendish traditionally. Or by genetic modification, is likely, the best hope for the bananas future but each has their drawbacks, traditional. Crossbreeding, of Cavendish, bananas is difficult, because of their tiny seeds, people. Have been selecting, bananas, for for thousands, and thousands, of years haste on seedless, no, one particularly. Wants, seeds, in their bananas, and. Now we, have some residual, fertility, in it but it's very difficult, to produce seeds, in, bananas, genetically. Modifying, bananas, has proven more successful, in 2015, Australian, researcher, James Dale engineered, a Panama, resistant, Cavendish, banana we've, taken a, resistance. Gene from a wild, banana that occurs in Southeast, Asia and, he's naturally, resistant, to tropical race 4 we've moved that gene into Cavendish and that's how we generate, a resistance, but, any genetically, modified, banana will face strong resistance from anti GMO groups in both the US and the EU but. The Cavendish is more important, both for global economies, and food security than, the gros michel ever was. In. 2013. The, world banana, forum under the United Nations created. A task force specifically. To combat Panama. Disease. Structured. Response, to this threat of knowing. That the regions where tr4. Has not yet arrived but may arrive if nothing is done that. Not, sheriff they're exporting in their economies, and demand. Continues, to rise from, 2017. To 2018, global. Imports, of bananas, increased, by two percent to over forty point three billion pounds over. A quarter of that went, to the US but. If Panama disease takes, hold in Latin America, it will decimate the industry, Cavendish could no longer grow, in the quantities, needed to satisfy the world's, and especially the us's love, of bananas, it. May already be there we're. Just not aware of it but once it's once it's there it's kind of like the horses out of the barn type, thing so once the past established, that's all she wrote for English. You.