By Doug Ohlemeier, The Packer

McDonald's has agreed to pay an extra penny per pound for Florida round tomatoes.

The fast food giant said it plans to pay the increase through its produce suppliers beginning with the 2007 Florida tomato season, which starts in October. McDonald's and representatives of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers announced the decision April 9.

A McDonald's spokesperson did not return calls, but the company has said it uses 15 million pounds of round tomatoes for its sandwiches a year. The restaurant chain also uses grape tomatoes on salads.

The announcement came days before a planned demonstration by the workers group in front of McDonald's corporate Chicago-area headquarters. The group had been urging McDonald's to take the action for two years.

The labor coalition has also targeted the Miami-based Burger King Corp.

The day of the announcement, the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Growers Exchange reiterated its support for a two-year-old industry program that works to assure proper worker conditions.

"We have been doing this for two years," said Reggie Brown, Tomato Growers Exchange executive vice president. "The McDonald's agreement doesn't bring anything new to the table from the standpoint of these kinds of issues for the workers. The growers exchange continues third-party audits to verify the code of conduct set about by the SAFE (Socially Accountable Farm Employers Certification) program."