The carcinogenic strawberry pesticide, methyl iodide, continues to make news. A farm in the California Central Valley recently became the fourth in the state to apply the fumigant, prompting tens of thousands of Californians to rattle Governor Jerry Brown’s cage, again. This time, they’re joined by 38 California legislators, who wrote a letter to Brown urging him “to take immediate action to prohibit the use of methyl iodide in California.”
Summer’s here, and it’s been 6 months since cancer-causing methyl iodide was approved for use in California agriculture. It’s only been in the past few weeks, however, that we’ve actually seen this incredibly dangerous chemical used in the fields of California.
Late last month, a farm in Sanger became the first in California to use the fumigant pesticide. Neighboring communities responded with a rally and demonstration outside the Fresno County Agriculture Commissioner’s office, demanding public health protections based on sound science, not corporate influence. "Today's message to all California regulators is clear: Do your job, protect public health and support farmers' transition away from toxic pesticides" said Sarah Sharpe, environmental health director of Fresno Metro Ministry.
It was chile peppers, not strawberries, that saw the first use of cancer-causing methyl iodide to sterilize California soil. And today, community leaders from Fresno and throughout the Central Valley gathered at the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner's office to urge officials to stop any future use of the chemical in their community.
On May 13th, the country's top scientists and 200,000+ ordinary people urged EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to prioritize scientific evidence over corporate influence and ban the cancer-causing pesticide methyl iodide. Called “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth” by Dr. John Froines, the chair of California's scientific review of the chemical, methyl iodide is promoted by Arysta LifeScience — the largest privately-held pesticide company in the world.
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.
Last week offered hope for science and strawberries, both. Three newsworthy events marked progress toward the slow crumbling of chemical industry influence on government. Each crack, however small, offers an opportunity toward food democracy, and the use of science in powerful service of the public good.
Once a year we all have an opportunity to recognize the contributions of the country's nearly 2 million farmworkers, and support their efforts to gain the dignity and rights they so deserve. Next Monday, March 27 marks the beginning of National Farmworker Awareness Week, a series of events and activities organized by Student Action with Farmworkers to spotlight these issues and honor the work of legendary labor rights activist Cesar Chavez.
Scientists have found that hot molasses could be key to controlling soil pests, allowing farmers to grow peppers and tomatoes in Florida without using the dangerous fumigant pesticide, methyl bromide. Ending reliance on methyl bromide has been particularly tricky in the sunshine state, where mild winters offer safe harbor for pests and sandy soils can make organic options a challenge. Nonetheless, innovative scientists and farmers are creating ways to grow food without pesticides. The March 2011 edition of Agricultural Research, published by USDA, has the story.
It's often unnerving to face multinational corporate capture of chemical policy and science. I certainly felt like I'd been kicked in the gut last December, when, after a diligent, multi-year review that actually kept science and the health of Californians as core commitments, chemical company influence won out as California legalized "one of the most toxic chemicals on earth" — despite the analysis and recommendations of their own scientists and overwhelming public opposition.