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Controversy due to environmental issues

Costa Rican pineapples, environmental tragedy or political hostage?

In recent years, environmental organisations such as UICN reported serious environmental and social consequences for Costa Rica, demanding the authorities to put an end to the damages caused by the monoculture of pineapples to the environment and communities. 

According to the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), water pollution and encroachment on protected areas and its water resources are the two main causes of complaints against pineapple companies. 

The number of companies reported exceeds fifty and the local press usually features plenty of related news.

According to Christian Herrera Leon, president of the National Chamber of Pineapple Producers and Exporters - CANAPEP, the problem of environmental rule violations is real, but not on the scale that has been portrayed in the media. 

"We do not deny that there are some issues; we have identified, as an association, those farms with poor environmental management. We need to make them respect the law, or else be punished," affirms Herrera. 

All intensive and extensive crops, like pineapples or bananas, have an impact on the environment. Mitigating the negative effects is one of the duties of the productive sector and the Government, but according to Christian Herrera, there is a lack of clear rules and an objective view from the government. 

"What we have not been told is the cost of this impact, i.e., the economic cost of having a sustainable production. We need to know that to be able to prepare a budget and transfer that cost to the product, hoping that the market will accept it," he affirms. 

According to Herrera, most complaints are made ​​"by outside parties without knowledge of the situation."

"There are radical environmentalists who did not wish to sit with us to talk and learn about the crops; something which our European customers actually did; companies like Tesco and Intermarché, with a high degree of social and environmental responsibility and who have successfully verified our quality standards and production system," he says. 

The Environmental Administrative Tribunal (TAA) is the specialised instrument Costa Rica has to enforce the laws protecting the environment and natural resources. This body is responsible for processing the complaints that the pineapple industry has received. 

"The Environmental Administrative Tribunal has little operation. Of the 51 complaints that the press speak of, I think there are about 35 cases pending for more than five years waiting to be reviewed," said Herrera.

The striking slowness with which the court appears to work is due, according to the president of CANAPEP, to political reasons. 

"The government follows a process of adjustment and the Environmental Administrative Tribunal desperately seeks to fill the press with news, exaggerating the size of the problem, as an irresponsible way to justify its role to prevent a greater reduction of the budget," affirms Herrera. 

If CANAPEP is right on this, the TAA is not fulfilling its duties, causing a long delay in correcting and improving the production practices of some irresponsible pineapple growers, slowing down the tackling of the harmful effects they have caused and, what is worse, it would be taking the Costa Rican pineapple industry and Costa Ricans as "hostages" in its budget struggles.

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