Methyl Iodide on your Strawberries, anyone?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first registered methyl iodide as a pesticide in October 2007, despite a letter from more than 50 scientists, including five Nobel Laureates. National approval came at the end of the term of Bush’s EPA appointee.

Here in California the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation approved the soil fumigant for agricultural use last December in a last minute rush before Jerry Brown took over.  There’s still a hope that methyl iodide can be kept in the hazardous waste containers where it belongs, and that Governor Jerry Brown will overturn Schwarzenegger’s deal with corporate agriculture.

The EPA’s Hazard Summary is enough to gag you, even if you’re not a farm worker, or live even close to where commercial agriculture operates.  Hold your breath as you drive by any strawberry fields, and think of methyl iodide as you twirl a chilled chocolate-dipped strawberry and take that first delicious bite. But Jerry Brown has agreed to have a “fresh look” at methyl iodide. And it’s not being used yet as I write.

Methyl iodide is a chemical known by the state to cause cancer, damage nervous systems, and disrupt fetal development. This is not good news to the mothers of Kettleman City. Nor is the well-established fact that methyl iodide, known as Mel,  causes late term miscarriages, and is likely to contaminates groundwater. You’ll find it on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer.

Why are we even considering a pesticide so toxic that it’s used in lab settings to grow cancer cells?

Arysta Life-Science, the largest pesticide manufacturer in the world, agrees that tests on animals have shown Mel’s carcinogenic toxicity. Why then would they it is safe for humans? They ignore the safety level recommendation of scientists and promote a use level for Mel that is 120 times higher than recommended by scientists. Scientists using this chemical in the lab to induce cancer in cells take serious precautions — using a ventilation hood and protective gear when handling even small amounts.The credible numbers appear to be on the side of Mel’s opponents. Just imagine the political and commercial pressure to rush the approval through on fast track while Schwarzenegger still sat in office.

This month an unnamed strawberry grower in Ventura county applied for a permit to spray methyl iodide.  It was granted and revoked a day later because the fields were too close to a children’s playground. Fumigants are used in high-value crops such as strawberries, which are the top grossing crop in Ventura County. In 2009, the strawberry crop’s value was $515.4 million. Fumigants rid the soil of pests, weeds and disease and 47 states have approved methyl iodide for agricultural use. You’re already ingesting it on food crops other than strawberries coming from out of state.

Food costs are rising right now. We slather the things we eat with lethal chemicals. Food grown without lethal chemicals to kill everything surrounding the plant is more expensive.  A fortunate minority has a choice and buys organic. It’s still a luxurious choice  for most people.

The farmworkers spraying pesticides don’t, nor do their families.  Visit the EPA’s own website if you need further convincing.

April 30, 2011:  I want to add this.  See the alternative, growing organic strawberries, is feasible and can be profitable.

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