On Valentine’s Day, Monterey County Supervisors voted overwhelmingly to urge California to take action on methyl iodide. Over one hundred farmworkers filled the hearing room in the heart of strawberry country, along with farmers, rural residents and physicians.
Tuesday’s vote was historic not only because of the resolution passed, but because of the triumph in the face of powerful corporate pressure.
On the other side, lobbyists for methyl iodide were out in force. Jeff Gilles of the firm Lombardo & Gilles, known as local power-brokers, said that without methyl iodide, “the sky will fall on agriculture.” Over the past few weeks, supervisors, many facing re-election campaigns, felt increased pressure from Lombardo & Gilles — a firm many rely on for campaign contributions. Given these stakes, it is especially impressive that the supervisors stood up to corporate pressure.
Supervisor Fernando Armenta, who represents most of the City of Salinas, best summed up his actions in the hearing with one phrase: "My constituency is farm workers.”
The resolution passed this week mirrors one Santa Cruz County passed last fall, a response to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s (DPR) approval of the cancer-causing chemical in late 2010. The decision was made despite overwhelming opposition from the scientific community, including six Nobel Laureates. Californians, especially farmworkers and rural residents, may find hope in the recent appointment of a new DPR director Brian Leahy, a former organic farmer, who will be tasked with cleaning up the methyl iodide mess starting next week.
Farmworkers on the front lines
PAN conducted an analysis of the impacts of methyl iodide, based on its predecessor methyl bromide, and found that Latino and low-income communities would be disproportionately impacted by the chemical's exposure, through air and water:
78% of our farmworkers — the people who would be most directly and dangerously exposed to methyl iodide — are foreign-born, and 92% of them are not covered by employer-provided healthcare, meaning that they would not have access to resources in a situation of pesticide poisoning.
"This dangerous pesticide has created a big concern in our communities," said Efren Barajas, Second Vice-President of the United Farm Workers. "We know this pesticide causes cancer."