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Almonds - What you might not know and helping you make the right decision

This is a post on one of our favourite natural products, almonds. It is by no means our intention to put any of the producing countries in a negative light, but to make you aware of some facts 💡that could help you take better decisions: with regard to yourself, to the nature, to the present and to the future.

We've split this into three important topics: water consumption, use of pesticides and the yearly death of billions of honeybees.

Californian almonds, the water 💧problem and why this matters to us all

Almonds are ⚕️healthy, no argue. But satisfying the massive demand, both in the US and throughout the world, has grown into a huge environmental problem, specially in the state of California.

Almond and almond milk 🥛consumption has increased drastically in the last 10 years, in the US 🇺🇸and around the world. Alone in the US 🇺🇸it increased by 250 % ⏫ between 2014 and 2018, and a yearly increase of about 15 % 📈 has been recorded ever since.

Considering that over 70 % of all almonds sold in the EU 🇪🇺 are of Californian origins, and with Germany 🇩🇪 being the biggest EU importer, this is a problem for us all ( Spain, the second EU importer actually re-exports 80 % of the imported almonds)

Almonds need water 💧 A lot of it:

  • 4 litres of water are needed for one single almond

  • 379 litres of water for one litre of almond milk🥛

It is well known that California has a water problem. It is a a region that regularly experiences droughts 🏜️which actually experienced the worst of them between 2012 and 2016, at the same time when almond milk 🥛 was becoming mainstream in the US, and when it overtook soy milk as the USA’s favourite plant 🌱milk.

To understand the impact:

  • A disproportionate 10% of the agricultural water supply in California is devoted to growing almonds

  • Another 10% for pistachios

  • A whopping 27% for livestock feed 🐄😲

Due to growing demand, growers have started planting almond trees in hot and dry regions, such as the western San Joaquin Valley, where water supplies are fragile. A huge and growing amount of groundwater is being used to keep these trees healthy in difficult conditions. The question is: for how long?

Chemical processing: use of pesticides and other chemicals

8️⃣0️⃣ % of the worlds almonds - for this is the amount that CA produces - undergo chemical treatments that have been in the spotlight for the last decade, with a name for causing cancer and other diseases in humans and for killing huge amounts of pollinating bees 🐝

If you think you are buying “raw” almonds, raw may not be exactly correct.

‼️Pasteurisation and the use of pesticides

Almonds are the only nut, seed or dried fruit that must by law be pasteurized in the US 🇺🇸 as of 2007. The main methods for pasteurizing almonds are:

  • Steam Processing ♨️

  • High Heat Treatment (roasting) Blanching 🔥

  • Propylene Oxide (PPO)

While steam processing - the main method used for US organic almonds - has a negative effect on the composition of almonds, huge problems arise from the use of pesticides in non-organic almonds, with PPO being used at scale.

Pesticides are used for all kinds of crops 🌾 across CA, but the almond, at 18 million kilos a year, is doused with greater quantities than any other, and one of the most widely applied pesticides is the herbicide glyphosate (aka Monsanto Roundup ) proved to be lethal to bees and cancerigen to humans

Yet there are more being used: Telone, glyphosate, metam-potassium, copper hydroxide, potassium phospite, chlorothalonil: all pesticides ☣️ officially still in use in CA, causing cancer, neurotoxicity, respiratory toxicity or endocrine disruption. 😷

Pesticides also seep into the groundwater, contaminating the already limited supply of water in CA and making it unsafe for human consumption.

‼️California almonds vs Italian almonds

And there is more to it: The permeability of the soft shells of CA almonds exposes them to the risk of developing aflatoxins, which are genotoxic and carcinogenic even at low doses. After banning imports from the US in 2007 on these grounds, the EU reviewed the decision and increased the threshold of aflatoxins allowed from 4 to 10 micrograms / kg, favouring the trade and sacrificing public health. Recently a batch of almonds from the USA was contaminated with aflatoxin B1 7 times higher than allowed thresholds (top article by Dario Dongo  )

Like sending bees to war - The pollinating business

After the water 💦 problem and use of pesticides ☣️, this part is about environmental destruction: from field and air poisoning to the yearly massive killing of billions of bees 🐝 involved in pollinating almonds.

A huge environmental problem in California (CA) is the use of migratory beekeeping for pollinating almonds. Large populations of bees are rented by their beekeepers and moved yearly for pollinating, a practice that according to a report from 2020 has lead to bees dying in record numbers.

It is now known that the high mortality 🏴‍☠️of bee populations in CA is due to extended exposure to pesticides, diseases and loss of habitat. Native bee populations are affected, as they compete for food and resources with the working bees, being exposed to diseases 🦠that they carry back home. This causes a devastating environmental imbalance

Honeybees 🐝thrive in a biodiversity. But CA’s almond industry places them in a monoculture where growers expect them to be productive yearly.

Almond pollination is demanding:

  • Colonies are aroused from winter dormancy 1-2 months earlier 💤

  • They’re packed in one region at the same time, increasing the risk of spreading sickness 🦠

  • Number of hives needed exceeds by far the needs of any other crop (apples, the 2nd largest crop need only 10 % of the hives needed for almonds)

Look at the dimension of this:

  • More than 5️⃣0️⃣ % of US beekeepers revenues 💰come from the almond pollination

  • More than 5️⃣0️⃣ billion bees die yearly while working the almond trees: This is more than 3️⃣0️⃣ % of commercial US bee colonies!

Any other industry, this would cause outcry ✋and immediate measures. Almonds: normal cost of business. As Nate Donley puts it: “It’s like sending the bees to war. Many don’t come back”

Lots of chemicals are not labeled as bee toxic, even though they can sicken them and weaken their immune systems. Bees may survive the pollination season but may not last the winter ❄️or may sicken the entire colony. They can travel up to 5 km in search of food, so even if the almond grower is doing everything right, other farmers may be spraying bee-toxic chemicals on near crops. 🌾☣️

There’s no better way to put it into words than Patrick Pynes:

“The bees in the almond groves are being exploited and disrespected”

Are you still convinced about the healthiness of your “raw” almonds ? Can WE do something about it? As in any other controversial topic, the change will only come from within, and this is a list of suggestions

  • Look for organic, European 🇪🇺produced almonds. We at tresmundi work only with Antonio Vinci, an extraordinary organic producer from the unspoiled Sardinian 🇮🇹landscapes in Tuili

  • Pay the correct price for quality and sustainability: it is a small price for a clean and healthy future

  • Support regionality and small producers: build back the bridge to the small farmers 👩‍🌾

  • Look for producers with values, respect and deep understanding of and for nature and environment

Sources: (1) The deadly truth behind your almond milk obsession:

(2) The health risks of pesticides in Stanislau County:

Stay tuned. Support the #change 

Akentannos! 💯

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