Chiquita Brands International, Inc. (NYSE: CQB) announced yesterday that it has achieved a major milestone in its work with the Rainforest Alliance’s Better Banana Project (BBP) — the certification of 100 percent of its owned banana farms in Latin America. The Better Banana Project is the leading international certification program for environmental and social standards on banana farms, and is managed by the Rainforest Alliance, an U.S. non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to protecting endangered ecosystems and the people and wildlife that live in them.

Chiquita is the only global banana company to have undertaken and met the strict, voluntary environmental and social standards of the Rainforest Alliance’s Better Banana Project. Chiquita has achieved certification on more than 71,000 acres (29,000 hectares) of its 127 company-owned farms in Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama. An additional 30 percent of independent farms supplying bananas to the company have also been certified. Together, the certified Chiquita bananas amount to 15 percent of the exported bananas from Latin America. Today, BBP-certified bananas make up more than 90 percent of Chiquita’s total volume to Europe and approximately two-thirds of the volume to North America.

“We are proud to have raised the bar for ourselves and the entire banana industry,” said Bob Kistinger, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Chiquita Fresh Group. “We have invested over eight years of effort and many millions of dollars, and we can credibly demonstrate now that Chiquita is truly a better banana. The Better Banana Project is a smart mix of improved business practices, better social standards, and real environmental benefits. We also like that its standards become more stringent as new technology becomes available, so we can strive for improvements in our performance each and every year.”

Tensie Whelan, Executive Director of the Rainforest Alliance, said, “We commend Chiquita for their vision in choosing to participate in our Better Banana Project. Through their extraordinary efforts, the company has demonstrated their commitment to environmental and social responsibility, leading the way for the rest of the industry.”

The Rainforest Alliance, the leading certifier of agriculture and timber products, began the Better Banana Project in 1991 in an effort to transform business and land use practices as well as consumer behavior. Together with a network of conservation organizations in Latin America, they develop and certify the use of best practices that protect water quality, worker health and safety, wildlife habitat and rainforests.

Better Banana Project standards for farm assessment and certification are based on these nine principles:

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  • Ecosystem Conservation * Integrated Management of Waste
  • Wildlife Conservation * Conservation of Water Resources
  • Fair Treatment and Good * Soil Conservation

Conditions for Workers

  • Good Community Relations * Environmental Planning & Monitoring
  • Minimal, Strictly Managed Use of Agrichemicals

Prior to adopting the Rainforest Alliance’s Better Banana Project, Chiquita commissioned another respected environmental group, Conservation International, to conduct a review of the program to verify the scientific and environmental validity of the standards. Following a six-month field study, Conservation International and Tropical Science Center scientists concluded that the Rainforest Alliance program “is an innovative system that looks for environmental improvement, … serves as a guide for the establishment of environmental measures, and promotes gradual changes in land use and practices … this program should be continued and supported for its goals.”

In comparing the Rainforest Alliance’s Better Banana Project to other environmental programs in the banana industry, David McLaughlin, Chiquita’s Senior Director of Environmental Affairs, said: “The Better Banana standards provide comprehensive requirements that must be met by each farm for both initial certification and ongoing annual compliance inspections by independent auditors. Because of its scientifically valid and increasingly rigorous performance standards, independent verification by local conservation organizations, and continuous recertification, the BBP establishes clear performance standards that significantly exceed those of other standards currently in use in the banana industry.”

Chiquita’s leadership has not been limited to its owned farms. Chiquita has influenced many independent producers who sell their fruit to Chiquita to follow these same standards. To date, over 30 percent of these producers’ farms have achieved the Rainforest Alliance’s Better Banana Project certification. Mr. McLaughlin said, “We will continue working until the remaining associate producer farms achieve BBP certification, and we encourage the rest of the banana industry to do the same.”

Chiquita is a leading international marketer, producer and distributor of quality fresh fruits and vegetables and processed foods.