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Poisonous pineapples?

Residents near Costa Rica's pineapple farms say the crop is dangerous, but the government and industry officials disagree.

Porras acknowledged that many of the pineapple growers in the country were at one time banana farmers. But, he added, he believes the “radicals” want pineapple farms gone entirely, which would be disastrous for the 30,000 people directly employed by the farms, and the estimated 100,000 whose jobs are related to the prized fruit.

Meanwhile, amid the uncertainty and growing pressure from local groups, regional officials have taken a hard line against pineapple companies.

In early March, the Municipality of Siquirres issued a moratorium on expanding pineapple farms in the region. The ban came on the heels of a police raid on the offices of two fruit companies — Hacienda Ojo de Agua and Frutex — which are believed to be using chemicals such as bromacil and diuron on their crops, which were then allegedly washing off into Siquirres streams and groundwater.

Costa Rica has no legal guidelines on such chemicals. Nevertheless, the police are trying to learn more about what they believe could be potentially harmful pineapple practices.

“The raids gathered documents and evidence that prove the use of bromacil,” according to police investigator William Jimenez, although he said a complete analysis will not be available until later this month. On the water issue, he said “it’s totally recommendable” for residents to continue to avoid drinking water from the tap. “I’m an investigator, but I’m also bothered by this issue (personally) because I use that water too,” he added.

Some researchers are grateful for the moratorium, as it may offer a grace period during which deeper investigations can occur. “Currently there’s no complete panorama” of the impact of pineapples in Costa Rica, said Clemens Ruepert, of the National University’s Regional Institute of Toxic Substance Studies. “The residents are very concerned, and that’s a real issue. If it isn’t investigated, it’ll continue to be nothing more than hearsay. This requires further scientific investigation.”

Marco Retana, a biology professor at University of Costa Rica, believes massive pineapple expansion has taken a grave toll on the environment.

“There are no grasses around them. These are pineapples on totally exposed land. This causes serious erosion problems. After land is used for growing pineapples, it can hardly have any other function,” Retana said.

Locals say they are encountering another problem with the pineapples: a blood-sucking insect farmers call the mosca paletera, or “leg fly,” probably akin to an insect known in North America as a stable fly.

“When the pineapple is cut off, the stalk is left there to rot. Then the fly comes along, developing all of its larval cycles there, and then attacks the cattle,” Retana explained.

Nelson Esquivel, 70, said he noticed the bug problem before selling his cattle farm four years ago to a pineapple company. “The fly sucks the cow’s blood (and) leaves welts all over,” he said. TV channel 7 recently reported that dairy cattle farms are losing considerable amounts of milk production due to the mosca.

But other neighbors remain most bothered by the supposed water problem.

“The United States might have a different level” of agrochemicals permitted in its water, said Carlos Luis Mejia, 65, a resident of Milano. “What we want is zero contamination. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

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