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California Strawberries Just Got A Little Sweeter

methyl iodide, California strawberries, food safety

About 88% of the strawberries available to American consumers are grown in California. The sweet tasting fruit just got a little sweeter and safer as a long-term battle has been won over the manufacturer of an agricultural pesticide that is often applied to California strawberry fields. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports that methyl iodide, made by Arysta LifeScience, will be pulled from the US market.

Methyl iodide is the active ingredient in a fumigant insecticide often used to treat agricultural crops. The Environmental Protection Agency states that the short-term exposure to the chemical may depress the central nervous system, irritate the lungs and skin, and affect the kidneys. Massive acute inhalation has been tied to pulmonary edema. Prolonged dermal (skin) contact may result in burns.

While the EPA has not classified methyl iodide as a human carcinogen, California classifies it as such under Prop 65 because it has been shown to cause lung tumors in studies of mice and rats.

“It’s very welcome news that American families and farmers will no longer be at risk from methyl iodide use in the fields, and near their homes and schools,” said Sonya Lunder, senior scientist with Environmental Working Group. “This highly toxic pesticide should never have been approved for use to begin with. It has no place in US agriculture.”

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The Pesticide Action Network states that in October 2007, more than 50 scientists wrote to the US EPA to oppose the approval of methyl iodide, but the agency approved it for use. In February 2010, independent scientists convened by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation presented findings that the chemical would have a “significant adverse impact on human health.” However, it was subsequently approved for use in the state in December 2010.

In 2011, scientists again urged the US EPA to cancel all uses of methyl iodide, which the agency then opened a public comment period and more than 200,000 agreed to ban the pesticide.

Arysta LifeScience, the largest private pesticide corporation in the world, announced yesterday that it would pull methyl iodide from the US market.

California policymakers and the California Strawberry Commission are working together to develop safer alternatives. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation has awarded $500,000 for research into non-chemical pesticides to use on agricultural crops.

The peak season for California strawberries is between March and August, but the sweet fruit is available year round. The California Strawberry Commission promotes the use of innovative and sustainable farming practices and considers food safety “their top priority.”

Sources Include:
The Environmental Working Group
The Environmental Protection Agency
The Pesticide Action Network
The California Strawberry Commission