How Much Is Your Strawberry Bill?

Americans love their strawberries.  We eat an average of 8.2 pounds of them per person each year.    It’s a multi-billion dollar industry covering almost 60,000 acres of agricultural land across the U.S.   California leads the way in production– $2.1 billion worth in 2009, covering over 38,000 acres of land. 

Currently, the price of a pound of conventionally grown (not organic) strawberries in Washington, D.C. is $3.99.  At 8.2 pounds per year, that’s an annual strawberry bill of $32.72. Nutritionally, strawberries are a bargain; they are loaded with vitamin C, B vitamins, and dietary fiber.   In terms of the inputs required to produce them, and the effect on public health and the environment, what does it really cost?

Environmental Working Group lists strawberries high on their “dirty dozen” list of fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide content.  Growers use more than 50 pesticides in producing our strawberries.    Among these are organophosphates and fumigants that have been linked to a plethora of long term, debilitating diseases and conditions, including Parkinsons’, leukemia, liver and kidney damage, thyroid disease, ADHD, autism, birth defects and fertility problems.

Farmworkers are especially vulnerable to the effects of these toxins, as they are exposed through residue on the plants, drift from pesticide spraying, and sometimes direct exposure if they are working in areas that have just had a pesticide application.  Their exposure risk is high because of the toxicity of the pesticides and the time they spend in and around these potential exposures. 

A particular fumigant causing a great deal of alarm among farmworkers, advocates, and environmentalists in California is methyl iodide (trade name Midas).  The fumigant is poised to become the replacement for ozone-depleting methyl bromide, which was banned by the Montreal Protocol in 1987.

The concern about methyl iodide is its toxicity and the risk to thousands of farmworkers, their families and residents of communities surrounded by strawberry fields.   It is a highly drift-prone substance that is a neurotoxin, thyroid toxin, and a carcinogen as identified by California Proposition 65.  An independent review panel of scientists, convened by the California Department of Pesticides has determined that methyl iodide would “have a significant negative impact on the public health”.  

The weight of evidence tells us methyl iodide has a tremendous cost in terms of potential human suffering, particularly among farmworkers who have the greatest risk of exposure.  The makers of Midas and strawberry producers tell us that without it, the price of strawberries will increase.    If it goes up as much as $1 per pound, my annual strawberry bill increases from $32.92 to $40.92.  That’s $8.20 to protect the health of a farmworker, his young son, unborn baby or the health of the elderly couple living on the edge of the field.  What about the health of thirty five first graders who jump rope and chase each other in a game of tag on the school playground?  Less than ten dollars–doesn’t that seem like a fair exchange? 

For more on methyl iodide, see “Eight Dollars and Twenty Cents” in AFOP’s September 2010 edition of SALUD!

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One Response to How Much Is Your Strawberry Bill?

  1. Marcia Schroeder says:

    Well, thanks for explaining it so well. I appreciate the information and am all for making all foods safer for the consumer. I am sure that after I am long gone they will figure out that chemicals, preservatives and additives are the root cause of most cancers!

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