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Minnesotans protesting potato pesticides turned away from McDonald's meeting

OAK BROOK, Ill. -- A group of rural Minnesotans hoping to present their concerns about McDonald's use of potato pesticides were denied entrance to the company's shareholder meeting Thursday, they said.

Kathy Connell, Larry Heitkamp and Amy Mondloch of the Toxic Taters Coalition said in a news release that they had worked with a McDonald's shareholder to enter the meeting, but McDonald's security turned them away as they pulled into the Oak Brook campus.

Heitkamp, an organic potato farmer from northern Minnesota, said in the news release he was disappointed that the company was unwilling to hear their concerns. He said McDonald's has not met its 2009 commitment to cut potato pesticides, and that those pesticides include carcinogens, endocrine-disruptors and neurotoxins.

"When potato fields are planted next to our farm, after the forest is clearcut, our air won't be safe because they'll be spraying pesticides once a week all summer," Connell said in the release. "Our well water will soon be too contaminated to drink. I'm disappointed that I came all the way to Chicago to share my experiences with McDonald's executives--the very people who have the power to influence what happens in the fields next to my home--and wasn't allowed to speak."

On its website, McDonald's says its suppliers source potatoes from conventional farmers, "many of which use pesticides to protect their crops, including potatoes. If they didn't apply pesticides, the quality of the potatoes would be affected.

"The use of pesticides is highly regulated and we expect any farmers in our extended supply chain to operate within regulated limits determined to be safe," the statement continues. "We have engaged our suppliers and U.S. potato growers to identify best practices in pesticide reduction and are seeing progress in better management."

Also at Thursday's shareholder meeting, 10 protesters from a crowd of more than 1,000 were allowed on McDonald's property to deliver a petition with more than 1 million signatures calling for $15-per-hour wages for the company's front-line workers, according to the Chicago Tribune.

McDonald's called Thursday's protest "the latest instance in an $80 million publicity campaign organized and paid for by the Service Employees International Union and its members. As has been the case in earlier protests, very few McDonald's or independent franchisee employees are participating," the Chicago Tribune reported.