Safe Strawberries

Strawberries

Sweet, delicious, and nutritious, strawberries are among our children's favorite foods. That's why it's so important to make sure our strawberries aren't grown using fumigant pesticides, some of the most dangerous chemicals manufactured by the pesticide industry. The good news: together, we've turned the tide on these pesticides, and farmers are leading the way to innovative and safer strawberry farming solutions.

Despite aggressive pesticide industry attempts to bring the fumigant pesticide methyl iodide, “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth," fully onto the U.S. market, science and common sense held sway. Arysta LifeScience, methyl iodide manufacturer and largest private pesticide corporation in the world, pulled methyl iodide from the U.S. market on March 20, 2012. Instead, California's government and strawberry growers are investing in much safer alternatives. 

Farmworkers and rural residents agree with this innovative approach that doesn't trade pesticide industry profits for their health and safety. Teresa DeAnda of the community group El Comité Para el Bienestar de Earlimart, located in California's Central Valley, confirms: 

"We've experienced pesticide drift first hand; pesticides like methyl iodide don't know fences or property lines and end up in our bodies." 

A better way: farmers offer alternatives

There’s a better way forward. In the United States and around the world, innovative farmers grow fruits, vegetables and other crops without relying on fumigant pesticides like methyl iodide. Organic farmers, for example, don't rely on fumigants or hazardous pesticides at all when growing crops, and there is a thriving organic strawberry industry in California and around the country. Others are making use non-chemical alternatives, including of selection of more resilient varieties and improved cultivars of strawberries, cultural practices (crop rotation, cover crops, natural fertilizer), biological control (using predatory species and bacteria instead of chemical pesticides), and physical methods (such as soil solarization and anaerobic disinfestation). A recent USDA study suggests that hot molasses could be an effective alternative to fumigation, as could poultry litter, mustard meal, cowpeas, and sorghum. "It's surprisingly easier to grow strawberries without chemicals than the industry would lead you to believe," says organic strawberry farmer Jim Cochran.

Policymaker support for innovative agriculture

Policymakers are stepping up to ensure investments in non-chemical alternatives to fumigant pesticides. And we support such policy.

For example, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) recently awarded $500,000 for research into non-chemical alternatives to fumigant pesticides. DPR Director Brian Leahy commented, 

““We’re excited to be working with the California Strawberry Commission on this cutting- edge, boots-in-the field research that will be followed by farmers throughout the world."

Key campaign events

•  March 2012, Huge Win! Arysta LifeScience, methyl iodide manufcturer, pulls methyl iodide off the entire U.S. market.  California policymakers and the Strawberry Commission announce a partnership to develop safer alternatives to fumigant pesticide reliance.

•  Late December 2011, PAN and allies press Governor Jerry Brown and his soon-to-be hired chief pesticide regulator to make action on methyl iodide a priority in 2012.

•  In October 2011, lobbyists for Arysta attempt to convince community leaders to abandon their cause. They refuse and instead in November work with local governments to pass resolutions opposing methyl iodide.

•  In late August, PAN and community leaders joined the United Farm Workers as they continued their 200-mile march to Sacramento calling on Governor Brown to take action on fair treatment for farm workers, including a moratorium on methyl iodide use.

•  August 30, community leaders gathered outside the former offices of pesticide manufacturer Arysta in late urging the company to live up to its responsibility to protect public health and the environment.

•   Documents unearthed as part of our coalition's methyl iodide litigation, released in August, demonstrated political and corporate influence on staff scientists at the California Department of Pesticide Regulation who expressed concerns about methyl iodide.

•   In August 2011, more than 100 community leaders from across the state met in Sacramento, and presented Governor Jerry Brown with 30,000+ signatures urging him to take action on methyl iodide. 

•   In July 2011, more than 35 California legislators, including Speaker of the Assembly John Perez submitted a letter to Governor Jerry Brown to “take immediate action to prohibit the use of methyl iodide in California.”

•   Farmworkers and neighboring community members protested the first use of methyl iodide in California in early June 2011, sending a strong and clear message to regulators across the state — in the words of Sarah Sharpe of Fresno Metro Ministry, "Do your job, protect public health and support farmers' transition away from toxic pesticides."

•   U.S. EPA opened a public comment period on our legal petition to ban all uses of methyl iodide, and in May 2011, 200,000+ agreed.

•   More than 35 scientists from across the country, including three Nobel laureates, urged U.S. EPA on May 7, 2011 to cancel all uses of methyl iodide, writing: "This rigorously conducted analysis indicates that methyl iodide cannot be used safely as a soil fumigant and serves as a sound scientific basis for U.S. EPA to cancel all agricultural uses of methyl iodide."

•  April 4, 2011, more than 35 California legislators, including Speaker of the Assembly John Pérez, submitted a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency urging policymakers to “suspend and cancel all uses of iodomethane (methyl iodide) in the United States….”

•   On March 23, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown publicly stated that he would reconsider the decision to register methyl iodide in California.

•   In March 2011, California’s pesticide regulation chief Mary-Ann Warmerdam announces her resignation and goes to work for chemical giant Clorox.

•   As internal correspondence by two state scientific staff, who both resigned from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (discovered in August 11 as part of our coalition's litigation) showed, they had to “read between the lines” to understand how decisions to approve methyl iodide were made by political appointees.

•   On February 22, 2011, the California Assembly’s Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials and Health Committees held the last of several oversight hearings on methyl iodide to highlight the breakdown in government decision-making in approving methyl iodide.

•   December 2010, in the final days of the Schwarzenegger Administration and under controversial “emergency” regulations, methyl iodide was approved by California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation.

•   In February 2010, independent scientists convened by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation presented findings of a six-month review and stated methyl iodide would have a “significant adverse impact on public health.”

•  in October 2007, more than 50 scientists, including six Nobel Laureates, wrote to U.S. EPA opposing the approval of methyl iodide, which the agency then approved.

Related Actions

For Government Officials

California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announces decision to register methyl iodide, December 2010.

California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) proposes to use methyl iodide, April 2010.

Final report of the California Scientific Review Committee on methyl iodide, convened by the Department of Pesticide Regulation, February 2010. 

U.S. EPA released its preliminary assessment in January 2006, inviting public comment through February 21, 2006. Find our response here: PAN North America's General Comment letter on fumigants (pdf)

Methyl iodide - in-depth description of health concerns and access to technical documents.

For Researchers & Students