Local nonprofit takes on food industry giant

Local nonprofit takes on food industry giant »Play Video
SEATTLE -- A Washington non-profit organization is going after one of the biggest food producers in the world, and it's not the first time they've picked a fight with giant in the food industry.

Water and Sanitation Health, Inc. alleges six communities in Guatemala have been exposed to toxic chemicals that are a result of Chiquita Brands International.

The non-profit claims the company also contaminates rivers and drinking water with fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and organic matter.

"We have environmental standards here in the US -- regulations through the EPA -- and so when you go down to those other countries like Guatemala, companies can kind of skirt around that and they don't have the strict standards that we do here," said Eric Harrison, the president of the organization.

This isn't Harrison's first fight against a Goliath like Chiquita. While a law student at the University of Washington, he sued Dole for similar accusations.

A judge refused to throw the case out and Dole eventually settled. The company denied the allegations, but traveled to Guatemala with Harrison to set up a water-distribution system.

Now Harrison is taking on Chiquita after testing their water sources for chemicals and contaminants. He claims the water is filled with dangerous cancer-causing agents.

"The ultimate goal, hopefully, is to one, change certain practices in banana farming and to provide clean water to these community members," Harrison said. "If we can get those two goals done, this lawsuit will be a success."

In a written statement, Chiquita spokesman Ed Loyd said the non profit is offering up "a significant misrepresentation" of Chiquita's record.

"We're the only ones in the banana industry that has our own farms that are audited to environmental, social, and labor standards," the statement reads. "We hope to have the opportunity to introduce Mr. Harrison to our operations. And our social responsibilities practices. We are always willing to listen to a stakeholder and work with anyone in a constructive dialogue that supports local communities, and improves the lives of our employees."