I just learned about a new documentary, “Bananas” that is supposed to be released this Saturday at the L.A. Film Festival. I say “supposed to be” because even before its official release, the film has hit a nerve for the Dole Food Company, the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world. And they are trying to prevent the Los Angeles Film Festival from showing the film. Read about the controversy in the article, “Dole Food Company dislikes “Bananas” in the June 16th edition of the Los Angeles Times.
El Dragón, our friend over at Fair Food Fight has written a great piece with a lot of interesting comments on the subject so I think I will just take the liberty to share his post with all of you here. Do check out Fair Food Fight for more information and commentary on today’s food industry because what’s going on in front of us and behind our backs is affecting every last one of us and in no uncertain terms.
A new foodumentary, Bananas! (trailer), has Dole Food Co.’s full attention. From the LA Times:
In the eyes of Dole Food Co., [Fredrik] Gertten’s film [Banana’s] is an egregiously flawed document based on what Dole lawyer Scott Edelman calls “a phony story” that has been discredited by the allegedly fraudulent conduct of the L.A. attorney, Juan J. Dominguez, at the film’s center. Dole, the world’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables, is vowing to sue both the filmmaker and the Los Angeles Film Festival for defamation if it screens the movie this week.
Them’s fightin’ words, and one can see Dole’s point of view. After all, Dominguez managed to score a number of court victories against Dole, only to have two of those rulings overturned when it came to light that Dominguez had concocted evidence and testimony.
In a 2007 jury trial before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Victoria G. Chaney, Dole lost and was ordered to pay $1.58 million to four of the dozen Nicaraguans claiming injury in that case, several of whom are depicted in Gertten’s film. Dole is appealing that case.
Then this spring, in a dramatic reversal of events, Chaney threw out two other lawsuits against Dole after being presented by Dole investigators with evidence gathered from Nicaraguans who said that they had been recruited and coached by lawyers, outfitted with false work histories and falsified medical lab reports, and promised payouts to pose as pesticide victims.
In her April 23, 2009 ruling on the case, Chaney said that “the actions of the attorneys in Nicaragua and some of the attorneys in the United States, specifically the Law Offices of Juan Dominguez, have perverted the court’s ability to deliver justice to those parties that come before it.”
“What has occurred here is not just a fraud on this court, but it is blatant extortion of the defendants,” i.e. Dole, the judge said in her ruling. The “plaintiffs’ fraud,” the judge said, “permeates every aspect of this case.”
Goal scored for Goliath.
But while that disclosure taints one lawyer’s legal arguments (and the principle character of Bananas!), it doesn’t undo the reality of the sad situation that Dole and other fruit companies created — or the larger truth of this film. Namely, it doesn’t undo the fact that Dole acknowledges that it used a devastating pesticide (called DBCP and known by friends as “nemagon”) in banana planations in Nicaragua, the Philippines, Honduras, the Ivory Coast, Costa Rica, and other banana-growing countries, and that that pesticide in all likelihood caused sterility in thousands of male banana plantation workers, miscarriages in women, and other serious health effects back into the mid-seventies. Nemagon is an organophosphate and a hormone disruptor and was banned in the United States in 1979, though its use continued in banana-producing countries well into the nineties. It also does not undo the fact that Dow Chemical, the producer of DBCP, said it wouldn’t sell the pesticide to Dole anymore because the chemical was too dangerous, or the fact that Dole threatened Dow Chemical with a breach-of-contract lawsuit if it didn’t keep selling the chemical to the fruit company (from the book Banana by Dan Koeppel). It also ignores the fact that Dole has settled quite a few of these farm worker cases out of court.
Dole is trying to control and create truth by threatening filmmaker Gertten with legal action (and frankly, given the years of bad press generated by these lawsuits, I don’t think it’s a mere threat). Dominguez was just one lawyer, representing some workers in one country. The fact is, there are thousands of farm workers in each of the countries mentioned above who’ve stepped forward to file allegations against Dole. If the company succeeds in shutting down this documentary and preventing it from circulating in film festivals and theaters, the experience of all those farm workers, a generation of them across the planet, and the indignities they suffered for the sake of a fruit company, will also be prevented from being witnessed in America.
(On a side note, the revelations about Dominguez also fail to answer other disturbing allegations against Dole. Please read up on Fair Food Fight’s Screw the Tallyman initiative, and call for an investigation into Dole for allegedly funding Colombian paramilitary groups and driving small banana farmers from their land.)
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