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Students demand cancer-free strawberries

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Strawberries were on the agenda at the recent Social Justice Summit hosted by Cal State Fullerton. In a lively workshop entitled Strawberry Fields Forever: Pesticides and Environmental Injustice in California, students developed strategies to roll back the controversial fumigant pesticide methyl iodide.

PAN Partners Program Coordinator Devika Ghai and Campaign Assistant Tia Lebherz traveled south to lead the workshop, and report that the students were "outraged that science had been so clearly subverted" to allow approval of the toxic chemical for widespread use in the state.

Workshop participants explored the new Safe Strawberry campaign website, and discussed ideas for getting methyl iodide off the market and out of California communities. Here's a small sampling of the creative strategies they came up with:

  • Spreading the word: After the conference, attendee Arianne Custer wrote a powerful article that was published on the front page of CSU Fullerton's newspaper, The Daily Titan.
  • Pressuring decision makers: Another attendee took a paper copy of PAN's petition to EPA home and used it as a sign-in for her birthday party, gathering signatures from friends and family.
  • Organizing local campaigns: Many participants vowed to pressure retailers to sign the Safe Strawberry pledge, committing to purchasing only cancer-free strawberries grown without the use of methyl iodide.
  • Advancing alternatives: Workshop attendees agreed there is an urgent need to support alternatives to chemical-heavy strawberry production, without placing the burden on farmers.

Many innovative famers are already successfully growing strawberries without fumigants. Jim Cochran, California's first organic strawberry farmer and owner of Swanton Berry Farms has been in the public spotlight recently, being honored as a recipient of the 2011 Natural Resource Defense Council's "Growing Green Award" for his longtime work in sustainable food production.

"The attendees at this workshop and the entire Social Justice Summit were an inspiration," reports Lebherz. "This kind of spirit motivates all of us to keep fighting chemical giants like Arysta, the largest privately-held pesticide company in the world and maker of methyl iodide. We all deserve cancer-free strawberries—the students realized they can do something right now to move us toward this goal."

Take Action >> EPA recently extended its comment period on methyl iodide to May 13th. Please add your name to PAN's petition today.

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