Tasty Toxic Strawberries?

So regulators are all for stopping the depletion of the ozone layer, even if it’s at the cost of public health, right? It appears that way.

On Friday, I first read a Grist article about California being on the verge of approving the use of the dangerous pesticide, methyl iodide, for strawberry crops.

Outrage is the first emotion that I felt when I found out about this.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation has proposed using the chemical, which the paper reports is “so toxic that even chemists are reluctant to handle it,” and it will become legal for farmers to use on June 29, following a 60-day comment period, unless there is enough of a public outcry against it.

The organic (Cali) strawberries I bought today. Still pretty large and in charge.

The EPA approved the use of methyl iodide in 2007 and it is licensed in 47 states, but the Chronicle reports that it is expensive and used sparingly in California and the Carolinas.

“Methyl iodide was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2007 for use as a fumigant over the protests of more than two dozen California legislators and 54 scientists, including five Nobel laureates, who signed a letter opposing registration of the chemical.”

It is being used to replace the now-banned methyl bromine which is being phased out due to an international agreement to reduce ozone-depleting chemicals, according to The Monterey County Herald.

Methyl iodide is usually injected into the soil and is meant to kill pretty much everything, so it’s not sprayed directly onto the strawberries. Lea Brooks, spokeswoman for the Department of Pesticide Regulation told both the Chronicle and Herald that the department is aware methyl iodide is toxic but that it can be used safely. The department says people would not be exposed to the chemical in harmful levels and that it wouldn’t get into the air or drinking water.

I’m not so convinced. The way it works is that the soil is treated and then covered with a tarp. So even if we forget about the people eating the strawberries and handful of other crops it’s used on, what about the workers? No matter what, it seems dangerous. Nevermind the fact that, just like with everything else, there are going to be people who don’t care so much and cut corners.

It just seems like greed to me to use this fumigant. Obviously, there are other, less-toxic ways to yield good strawberries. Do we really need monstrous ones anyway? Right or wrong (and I think right) I kind of look at it like, the bigger the fruit or vegetable, the more chemicals were probably used to grow it.

Tender, juicy, strawberry goodness.

The Chronicle reported that Susan Kegley, a chemist who is a consulting scientist for Pesticide Action Network, a nonprofit public interest group in San Francisco said safeguards don’t matter.

She said, “This stuff just kills everything,” and that it’s a known carcinogen. She added that even low doses have caused neurological damage and fetal death in laboratory animals and that methyl iodide has been linked to thyroid disease and  cancerous tumors that can affect the lungs and brain.

“We are likely to see a greater incidence of thyroid disease with use of this chemical,” said Kegley, who wears double gloves and uses syringes, a fume hood and ventilation devices whenever she handles the chemical in the lab. “The only good thing about methyl iodide is that it doesn’t deplete the ozone layer.” — San Francisco Chronicle

The EPA does not consider methyl iodide to be a carcinogen, although it does report that the chemical increased cancer in mice and rats. It does, however, report that it can affect the central nervous system in humans.

I was stunned when I told my dad — who is always talking about all the chemicals in our food — about this possibly being approved and he basically shrugged it off like it’s one more thing we can’t do anything about. I was disheartened to see that he just didn’t seem to care, but more determined to spread the word.

Here’s the thing: The California regulators say they are willing to hear the public’s comments. The Herald said officials had received thousands of comments as of Saturday speaking out against the use of the methyl iodide. And there is still time to be heard.

And whether California goes through with allowing the fumigant’s use, there’s also petition to stop the use of it in all states. It asks the EPA to re-evaluate its stance on the gas and to have it de-registered for agricultural use.

In a time when pretty much all of us can say we’ve been touched in some way by cancer, I feel like I have to do my part when I hear that more deadly chemicals could be near our food. Have you seen the ginormous strawberries at your supermarket, compared to the sometimes teeny organic ones? Just think about the differences in what they’re touched by that cause them to be so different next time. If paying more for smaller strawberries with more taste means avoiding toxins like methyl iodide, I’m all for it.

If you want to send your comments to California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, pop a note in the mail to:
Pesticide Registration Branch, Department of Pesticide Regulation, P.O. Box 4015, Sacramento, CA 95812, or e-mail mei_comments@cdpr.ca.gov.

To sign CREDO’s petition to de-regulate methyl iodide, go here.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Jim Sims says:

    This is an extremely one sided presentation of the facts. Too bad the reporter did not take time to do her homework.

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