Chiquita Oil Sands Controversy: 'Ethical Oil' Keeps Up Campaign As Fruit Company Denies Boycott

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CHIQUITA OIL SANDS ETHICAL OIL BOYCOTT
Chiquita Brands CEO Fernando Aguirre speaks during a news conference in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011. | CP

EDMONTON - Oilsands advocates will keep calling a decision by Chiquita Brands to avoid oilsands-derived fuel a boycott even though the food multinational says that's wrong.

"You can word it any way that you want, but if your goal is to not use Canadian oilsands oil, that's a boycott," said Kathryn Marshall of EthicalOil.org, which has sponsored radio ads and public demonstrations against Chiquita's decision.

On Wednesday, a pair of sombrero- and poncho-clad supporters handed out brochures in front of an Edmonton grocery store, urging customers to boycott Chiquita in retaliation.

"Chiquita Brands International has declared war on the livelihood of Alberta families," said the brochure, which suggested people mail it to the store's head office.

That overstates the case, said Chiquita spokesman Ed Loyd.

"Contrary to some press reports, Chiquita is not banning or boycotting Canadian fuel," he said. "Chiquita currently utilizes, and will continue to utilize, Canadian fuel sources.

"We have encouraged our suppliers to test alternative energy sources, more fuel-efficient vehicles, and to source, where possible, various fuel sources that have a lower carbon footprint and commit to a strategy of continuous improvement.

"We are disappointed for our consumers and customers that there has been so much misinformation."

Federal and Alberta Conservative politicians have criticized Chiquita's decision since it was released last Friday.

More than 1,600 people have joined EthicalOil's Facebook site about the issue, said Marshall. Most are from the oilsands city of Fort McMurray and other Alberta communities, but many have joined from British Columbia and even the East Coast, she said.

"We've actually been flooded with donations," said Marshall. "We've also been flooded with new members too. It's been great."

Marshall said Alberta has a good environmental record. She added that the carbon footprint of oilsands crude is comparable to that of other heavy producers such as Venezuela.

"We are an environmentally responsible producer," she said.

Critics point out that fuel derived from the oilsands still emits about 10 per cent more carbon dioxide than Venezuelan heavy oil when mining, refining, transporting and final use are all considered. That's some of the most greenhouse-gas-intensive on the planet.

Several peer-reviewed studies have linked low levels of contamination in the Athabasca River to oilsands facilities. A recent report from the Royal Society of Canada concluded that the industry's rapid growth has outstripped Alberta's ability to regulate it.

The province and the federal government are developing joint, scientifically credible environmental monitoring to understand what's happening in the region.

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