GroundTruth Blog

Bring on 2011! An update on the strawberry pesticide

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by Kathryn Gilje

Judging by what's unfolded at the end of 2010 and these first few days of 2011, the PAN community is energized as never before to take on chemical company control of government and food. Record numbers of people like you joined PAN to take action (we're near 50,000 strong now and growing fast — that's up from 12,500 just 18 months ago!), and these first days of 2011 have been action packed. On Monday we announced a lawsuit against Arysta, the largest privately-held pesticide corporation in the world, and the state of California — both — over the cancer-causing strawberry pesticide methyl iodide. Alongside the lawsuit we delivered 52,000 requests to incoming Governor Brown urging him to reverse the state's decision to allow that chemical to be used in agriculture.

We were also thrilled that Dolores Huerta, long-time Vice President of the United FarmWorkers and currently running the Dolores Huerta Foundation, got in the ring on methyl iodide. As writer Mary Duan reports

For Huerta, battling Arysta and those who would use methyl iodide is a no-brainer. She scoffs at the idea that expanded buffer zones – the no-fumigation areas surrounding schools and residential areas – will keep people safe from methyl iodide, which is considered a carcinogen in the state.... She’s aghast that the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or CalSTRS, has committed nearly $1 billion into an investment vehicle called Permira IV – the fund behind Arysta. And she’s planning to talk to Gov.-elect Jerry Brown about it.... Arysta, a company with very deep coffers, should be worried about this. As one person who knows Huerta puts it, “Once she gets in a situation, she won’t stop. She absolutely won’t stop. Odds are, Brown will take the phone call."

Indeed.

 

More about our lawsuit

On Thursday, December 30th, Earthjustice and California Rural Legal Assistance filed the lawsuit on behalf of PAN, United Farm Workers, Californians for Pesticide Reform, Pesticide Watch, Worksafe, Communities and Children Advocates Against Pesticide Poisoning and farmworkers Jose Hidalgo Ramon and Zeferino Estrada. The suit challenges the December 20 Dept. of Pesticide Regulation approval of methyl iodide on the grounds that it violates a suite of California environmental and public health laws.

Our suit makes two firm requests of the Governor:

  1. Reverse the recent approval of methyl iodide as a soil fumigant pesticide. This new pesticide should not be used in California agriculture. Period.
  2. Direct your agency staff to create a Methyl Bromide Alternatives Research and Implementation Plan for California. Rather than replacing methyl bromide with an expensive, difficult-to-use pesticide called “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth” by scientists, we seek the creation of a plan by November 2011 that lays out a suite of alternatives that are economically viable for strawberry growers, while healthy and safe for Californians. Many farmers, large and small, are already growing strawberries without relying on fumigant pesticides like methyl bromide or methyl iodide. We are calling for coordinated action to make these options publically available to all farmers.

At this point I'm betting California's DPR already regrets its December 20 decision to allow methyl iodide. They've called to action an engaged and outraged public that shows no signs of backing down. And heading into the new year, we were pleased to see that change.org named our coalition's methyl iodide campaign as one of seven sustainable ag 'campaigns to watch' in 2011.

We are determined to see a day when farmers are respected as leaders of a safe, healthy and ecologically sound agriculture based on sound science and democratic decision-making.

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