Maybe Think Twice before Buying Strawberries from California

With strawberry season coming up, it’s worth it to bring up that California has controversially approved methyl iodide – a rather nasty pesticide – for use.

California grows a very large percentage of fruits and vegetables for the US, and strawberries are maybe one of the most noteworthy.  Here’s why:

Effects of the pesticide methyl iodide

Methyl iodide is a known toxin and cancer-causing agent. Even the CDC and USDA state that methyl iodide exhibits high toxicity when inhaled or ingested.

It’s so toxic…that’s why it makes a great pesticide…makes sense.

Methyl iodide is a fumigant* pesticide. The soil to be planted is covered with a giant tarp, and the pesticide is injected into the soil. The plants are planted after the soil has been fumigated.

Since it is not sprayed on directly food, this reduces the risk of directly ingesting the pesticide.  However, indirectly it could be consumed through soil contamination and run-off into water supplies even if California is claiming that great care will be taken.

Why strawberries are particularly vulnerable to pesticides

Strawberries are one of the ‘dirty dozen‘ – the twelve foods most likely to expose people to pesticides.

Because of their seeded texture and thin skin, it is more likely that any pesticide that comes in contact with the outside will stick even after washing, or even seep through the skin into the fruit.

Even though this particular pesticide is not sprayed directly on the fruit, is it possible that it, or its by-products, can work it’s way onto the fruit from the fumigated soil?  Can the strawberries take the by-products up from the soil?

That’s not something I really want to find out the hard way, and the long-term effects of this have not been studied properly.

What you can do

Buy organic strawberries.  Organic strawberries are farmed without chemical pesticides, so you don’t have to worry about ingesting them. Organic strawberries were also recently shown to provide better nutrition.

Make yourself heard. While the EPA was asking for comments from the public until April 30th and that deadline has passed, if you feel very strongly about it, the people at Food Democracy Now will probably be happy to help you get in touch with someone who has influence: contact them.

*This version has been corrected to state that methyl iodine is a fumigant pesticide.

Sources: Food Democracy Now!

Wikipedia

CDPR

Bay Citizen

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons by grongar

Written by jeannie

7 Comments

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  1. Jeannie,

    Methyl iodide ISN’T sprayed on strawberries. Methyl iodide is a soil fumigant. That means it is injected into the ground before plants are ever planted. Plants are not introduced to soil until about two weeks after it is applied. By that time, there’s no trace of methyl iodide left in the soil. So, it doesn’t get on strawberry plants at all. Methyl iodide is applied by highly-trained applicators who apply fumigants for a living. It’s already in use in the U.S. and there hasn’t been a single health incident associated with its use to date.

    • I have corrected the article to state that it is a fumigant pesticide. That was my mistake.

      As for your other comments, I think you are being rather dismissive about applying a “highly toxic” fumigant to the soil that grows the food we are meant to eat.

      A scientific committee found the following:
      “Based on the data available, we know that methyl iodide is a highly toxic chemical and we expect that any anticipated scenario for the agricultural or structural fumigation use of this agent would result in exposures to a large number of the public and thus would have a significant adverse impact on the public health. Due to the potent toxicity of methyl iodide, its transport in and ultimate fate in the environment, adequate control of human exposure would be difficult, if not impossible. This is clearly shown in the DPR risk calculations and the evidence of the toxicity of methyl iodide upon which these conclusions are based is compelling. In addition to the evidence for significant toxicity there is a lack of information that adds further uncertainty to the evaluation of the toxicity. We have concluded there is little doubt that the compound possesses significant toxicity”

      “The SRC found it alarming that there were no reliable data on the potential of methyl iodide to contaminate groundwater.”

      http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/risk/mei/peer_review_report.pdf

  2. Thanks for the clarification, Maggie. I also want to add that there are pesticides that are certified for organic use. And, these pesticides, as well as other strategies, like integrated pest management, are used by conventional farmers, too.

  3. Thanks for posting this Jeannie. Really sad (and stupid) what CA is doing. I’ve purchased only organic strawberries for several years now. Glad they are becoming easier to find. They taste so much better too. So many farm stands in my area and all are conventional, not organic. I don’t even stop. I’ve lived by the dirty dozen list for years and was surprised to find celery at the top of the list.

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