Strawberry Fields Forever

The dangerous pesticide methyl iodide is finally being pulled from all U.S. markets. Arysta Life Science Inc., the Tokyo-based company that produces the pesticide, confirmed in a news release on Tuesday that it was suspending the sale of all formulations of the fumigant immediately. While the press release stated economic viability based on market research as the reason for stopping the sale, it likely has a lot to do with California Governor Jerry Brown’s appointment of Brian Leahy, a former organic farmer, as the head of the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation. Methyl iodide was undergoing a rigorous review and many issues about the chemical, such as its tendency to drift away from its target were criticized. Furthermore, environmentalists and scientists, as well as the concerned public, were pointing at studies linking methyl iodide to birth defects, miscarriages and thyroid disease. The pesticide is also listed as a carcinogen under California state Proposition 65.

As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, a judge was overseeing the review of the pesticide. Arysta Life Science is said to meet with the presiding judge on Wednesday to ask him to drop the case. While the decision is going into effect immediately, the reality is that it might take a while before methyl iodide is completely phased out on California farms. Methyl bromide, the toxic chemical methyl iodide replaced in 2005 is still used in some areas of California, as farmers worked to navigate legal loopholes. Luckily, methyl iodide was never abundantly used in California, as many farmers were aware of the toxicity and dangers associated with it, according to the California Strawberry Commission.

It is reassuring farmworkers won’t be exposed to this toxic chemical as they work. It is also comforting that children and families who live near fields won’t have to worry about the pesticide drifting into their homes and schools. Furthermore, it is reassuring that we, as consumers, can enjoy delicious strawberries this summer with less worry about this  specific chemical entering into our bodies.

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