Company Pulls Methyl Iodide From U.S. Market
By Heidi Lewis
Raise a glass of strawberry lemonade to the defeat of the fumigant methyl iodide! A lengthy campaign by environmentalists, farmers, scientists, doctors, and farm workers to stop the use of fumigants in strawberry production has ended with a significant victory for the environment.
On March 20, 2012, Arysta Lifescience, the Tokyo-based company that produces the pesticide fumigant methyl iodide, announced that it was withdrawing the product from the entire U.S. market. Fumigants are used in other conventional crops, but notably in commercial strawberry production where entire fields are "gassed" to sterilize the soil to kill pests and fungi.
Earlier in March, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the California Strawberry Commission, a state agency representing growers, announced a research partnership to reduce fumigant use by exploring “effective and environmentally friendly ways to control pests.” In April, the DPR announced the creation of a Nonfumigant Strawberry Production Work Group to “speed up the timetable for more production tools in the face of tougher fumigation restrictions and urban development near agricultural land.” California, and specifically Monterey County, is ground zero for strawberry crops—it produces 90 percent of U.S. strawberries and is a $2.1 billion industry.
The FruitGuys has followed the campaign to stop the use of fumigants closely as it has always sourced only organic strawberries for its customers and supports sustainable agriculture methods. Until 2010, methyl bromide was the main strawberry fumigant used before being banished as part of the U.S. agreement to the Montreal Protocol. It is still in limited use under “critical use exemptions” through 2014. Methyl Iodide, the proposed replacement, caused great concern as it has been linked to severe health concerns, including miscarriage and cancer. Fifty-four chemists and scientists, including five Nobel laureates, sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency requesting it not be approved for use. The EPA approved it.
We can thank the 185 organizations including Californians for Pesticide Reform, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Pesticide Action Network, California Rural Legal Assistance, Earth Justice Farmworker Justice, United Farm Workers, and many others, who put their resources into fighting for safer strawberries. Many individuals also wrote letters, edited briefs, made calls and signs. The work took place in courtrooms, classrooms, labor halls, and strawberry fields—a lot of communities were involved and we will all benefit.