365 Days of Summer

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Is summer fresh produce from Chile growing on you? Are you grateful to be able to buy grapes, plums, peaches and other August fruit in the dead of winter because of that 2004 free trade agreement?

That mindset is what the earthquake-ravaged country is cultivating in a new Cornucopia television ad campaign reaching out to American consumers who buy produce at Safeway, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Winn Dixie and other outlets that peddle an array of both imported and locally harvested fruits and vegetables.

The buy local mantra of the eco movement threatens international growers whose livelihood depends upon the plastic sealing and heavy fuel shipping of fresh foods to markets throughout the United States, including rich agricultural states like California, Arizona and Texas.

That threat has been worsened by the recent 8.9-magnitude quake which damaged roads, bridges, harbors and other key infrastructure while hampering communication lines used by processors and packaging plants.

The 30-second ad, tells us “right now it is summer in Chile” where vast natural resources allow it to grow produce, dairy, meat products, olive oil, wine, seafood and more. What swank menus don’t feature Chilean sea bass? The buttery male voice asks you to experience the abundance of the central American’s country’s harvest, “in season now at Winn Dixie.”

It has been pretty good so far with nearly half of all fruit in the U.S. coming from Chile.

The Stats

The California and American Chambers of Commerce report Chile is our 25th largest export partner, sending us $1.3 billion in fresh fruits in 2003, and packaged food exports worth a whopping $1.5 billion in 2008. The Philadelphia Inquirer tells us the bulk of the crops shipped to U.S. shores (65%), enter Philadelphia to be directed to stores east of the Mississippi River. The rest comes through Los Angeles. California, alone, lists Chile as its 22th largest export buddy. This graph shows countries that imported fresh fruits from Chile in 2008-2009.

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Are We Also Buying the Image?

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The primary world exporter of grapes, Chile controls 24 percent of the global grape market. Raisins, our favorite dried fruit, are produced at home, but we also imported 42.5 million pounds in 2008, mostly from our partner, Chile. Chilean wine, also threatened by the quake, has also been a popular choice here with trendy reds and subtle whites, and Chile has enjoyed the status of being fourth in the world for wine exports. The country is the world’s larges plum supplier with 36 varieties grown annually. It is the second largest exporter of kiwifruit, another gourmet staple, and after the 2004 trade agreement, it upped its peach exportation greatly, shipping over 60 percent of its peaches and nectarines to the U.S.

We also buy Chilean farmed salmon which has boosted the country’s seafood industry. The USDA reports salmon exports exploded from 1.2 million pounds in 1989 to 50 million in 1996, not a welcomed increase by our own salmon farmers who have sought legislation to reduce the surplus.

All About Image

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The cornucopia ad, funded by the Chilean exporters Association (Asoex) and The Export Promotion Bureau (ProChile) and fielded by the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA), is designed to promote Chile as not just a country with plentiful resources, but a country you can trust to put the healthiest food on your table.

Fruitnet tells us retailers were offered five-second tags at the end of the spots in exchange for in-store promotions. That is why one of the ads says “now in season at Winn Dixie.”

“We have many creative promoters among our partners in retail,” says Tom Tjerandsen, North American managing director of CFFA. “We marvel at the multitude of ways that retailers choose to ensure that they take full advantage of our television support.”


In deciding for yourself, you might want to consider the issue of pesticides in fresh foods, one of the main concerns of the local food movement. According to Consumer Health, residues of the toxins are present on many of our favorite fresh foods, including grapes, peaches, apples and celery. But surprisingly, research shows the crops we import from Mexico and Chile are not more contaminated than domestic foods, despite what is commonly believed.

A reason for the belief is that Chilean farmers in the past have been pressured to use pesticides like Dormex even though exposure has proven to harm the health of growers and their unborn children. Chile imports some 15, 000 tons of the chemicals each year and experts say there are some 928 registered pesticides in use there, including 39 prohibited or severely restricted by the United Nations and governments of the world. Grapes grown in the Copiapo Valley are heavily sprayed, and grapes showed high traces of residue on the Consumer Health study.

And if you are buying Chilean salmon, you should know last year the FDA stepped up its scrutiny of the glut when the New York Times reported on the spread of infectious salmon anemia (ISA) plaguing the Chilean farming industry, as well as unsanitary, overcrowded salmon pens and poor environmental conditions. Stores like Safeway restricted imports, and Chile responded by promising to tighten its control by tripling inspections and reducing antibiotics.

Looks like we have to do some policing at home, as well. Consumer Health says 11 of the 12 highest contaminated foods recently tested were U.S. grown, including peaches, pears, apples, winter squash, and green beans. The key is to know what you are eating, and to properly wash and peel fruits and vegetables before eating.

Still, buying locally raised, organic food is the best way to avoid exposure to toxins. And buying locally grown, organic fare also is the best way to promote and support local farmers who are stepping up to the green plate. Will Chile suffer greatly if we refuse to buy what the country is selling?

I suppose that is a risk we must take in considering our future. When I was a child, we only bought peaches, plums and grapes in the summer – that is – when it was summer in sunny California.

Images: athrasher, CFFA/USA


Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.