California Approves the Use of Dangerous Pesticide on Strawberry Fields

Reader Contribution by Californians For Pesticide Reform

Ignoring the assessments of U.S. scientists and its own Scientific Review Committee, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced its approval for use of methyl iodide, a potent carcinogen and water contaminant, in the state’s strawberry fields. The news comes one day after press events in eight California cities urging DPR to deny its approval, and after the state of Washington decided to not allow use of the chemical.

A coalition of farmworker, farm, public health and environmental groups is calling on California Gov. Jerry Brown to work with his staff to undo this approval, and deny the use of methyl iodide in California. Specifically, they say Brown should:

  • Follow the recommendation of John Froines, chair of the Scientific Review Committee, to reconvene the committee and direct DPR to incorporate the committee’s evaluation and analysis into its final decision.
  • Put a moratorium on methyl iodide use on his first day of office.

Crumbling under chemical-industry pressure, including an intensive pro-methyl iodide lobbying and communications campaign run by Arysta LifeScience — methyl iodide manufacturer and the largest privately held pesticide company in the world — the state of California has shunned the findings of top scientists who have consistently said that the chemical is too dangerous to be used in agriculture. Arysta LifeScience pushed to secure registration of the pesticide in California because it is one of the most lucrative pesticide markets in the nation.

The Scientific Review Committee (SRC) noted in its final report in February that “Based on the data available, we know that methyl iodide is a highly toxic chemical and we expect that any anticipated scenario for the agricultural or structural fumigation use of this agent would result in exposures to a large number of the public and thus would have a significant adverse impact on the public health. Due to the potent toxicity of methyl iodide, its transport in and ultimate fate in the environment, adequate control of human exposure would be difficult, if not impossible.”

John Froines, chair of the SRC, said in a Senate Food and Agriculture Committee hearing in June, “I believe that if you go out into the real world, and I think everybody in this room knows what the real world in the valleys are about, that the mitigation strategies that are promised so articulately by Mary-Ann [Warmerdam, DPR Director] are not going to be adequate, because this is without question one of the most toxic chemicals on earth.”

“The decision to permit use of a chemical in the fields that causes cancer, late-term miscarriage and permanent neurological damage is a ticking time bomb,” says Susan Kegley, consulting scientist with Pesticide Action Network. “The idea that this pesticide can be used safely in the fields is a myth.”

In 2007, the Bush Administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved methyl iodide at the national level, ignoring concerns from a group of over 50 eminent scientists — including six Nobel Laureates in chemistry — who expressed astonishment in a letter to the EPA that the agency was “working to legalize broadcast releases of one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing into the environment.”

Since then, the more protective registration processes in New York and Washington both rejected methyl iodide, and in August, Senator Dianne Feinstein asked the EPA to review the pesticide’s registration nationally. The agency has said that it will open a public comment period on the pesticide’s approval due to the “complexity of the issues raised and the public interest in methyl iodide.”

Following their draft announcement in April to approve methyl iodide, DPR received more than 53,000 public comments — the most in the history of the department — and the vast majority were in opposition to approval.

“Today, California has failed communities who live near fields, trading our health to protect the profits of pesticide companies,” says Teresa DeAnda, president of the community group El Comité Para el Bienestar de Earlimart. “Governor Brown needs to take immediate action to ban methyl iodide because neither Arysta nor California regulators will be there to help when our communities get cancer and we lose our babies.” 

The chemical will be used primarily on strawberry fields. Despite the claims that it would not be possible to grow strawberries without methyl iodide, organic growers across the state do so successfully every year.  “I’ve been growing strawberries without using pesticides in California for 25 years,” says Jim Cochran, owner of Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, Calif.  “It’s certainly possible to grow commercially viable and ecologically sound strawberry crops without using methyl iodide or any other chemical pesticides.” 

A study released in September from Washington State University showed that organic farms produced more flavorful and nutritious safe strawberries while leaving the soil healthier and more genetically diverse than conventional strawberry farms.

The Pesticide Action Network regularly updates its blog, GroundTruth, which has a number of methyl iodide-related posts. 

See the original article at