Toxic Strawberry Pesticide Pulled From Sale The US

In a proactive business move, Arysta LifeScience Corporation, the manufacturer of methyl iodide also known as Midas, pulled the controversial pesticide from the shelves on March 20, 2012 due to “economic viability in the U.S. marketplace.” With the majority of the Midas market being in California (88 percent of the domestic strawberry market), the continued attack on the toxic product, and limited use due to strict regulations against application near homes, businesses and schools, the market for Midas was not looking good. The discontinuation of the product went into immediate effect and they were asking farmers to return unused portions.

The suspension of sale was applauded by environmental groups, farmers and individuals who have been actively working for years to ban the product. Originally approved by the EPA in 2007, and  believed to be a good replacement for methyl bromide which was banned in 2005, Midas had never been used heavily due to many concerns from the scientific community from the beginning. And due to California’s own Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) approval process, methyl iodide hadn’t been approved for use in that state until 2010. The pressure to find a replacement for methyl iodide grew as California Gov. Jerry Brown appointed a former organic farmer and assistant director for the California Department of Conservation, Brian Leahy, as the new director of the California DPR. And a new research partnership between the DPR and the California Strawberry Commission was created to look for alternatives to using fumigants – even before methyl iodide was officially pulled from the market. The partnership will dedicate $500,000 over the next three years.

It is interesting that while so many people worked to ban the toxic fumigant – called one of the most toxic chemicals on earth, others worked hard to make it available for sale. From the Arysta’s press release, “Arysta LifeScience Suspends MIDAS in the United States” –

The company would like to express its gratitude to growers, researchers, business partners and supporters who helped MIDAS® achieve U.S. EPA registration and registration in 48 states. LifeScience will continue to support the use of iodomethane outside of the U.S. where it remains economically viable.

With no access to methyl iodide, and methyl bromide being phased out (but accessible under a critical use exemption (CUE) possibly through 2014), farmer’s are looking for a less toxic but effective alternative. From the VCReporter: “Existing alternatives, such as chloropicrin and metam-sodium, have not been as effective as methyl bromide, said Carolyn O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission. In Ventura County, she said, many growers transitioning away from methyl bromide have found plant diseases they haven’t seen before, which is an obvious threat to the county’s No. 1 agricultural export.”

Transitioning to organic crops are an option, but obviously not a quick fix or something that many farmers feel is viable. Addressed in this article in NewsObserver.com, Dwindling choice of fumigants imperils strawberry profits, “Conventional growers say organic farmers can’t match their volume. Carolyn O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission, questioned whether there was enough farmland to make strawberry production viable using only organic methods. For one thing, she said, rotation requirements would put land off-limits in some years. Strawberries would no longer be the plentiful and affordable product consumers know now, AmRhein said.”

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New Toxic Pesticides to Replace Older Ozone Depleting Pesticides

Nothing says summer like strawberries, but before you bite into your next, read this.

Methyl Bromide, a soil fumigant often used on strawberry crops, was phased out in the US by 2005 because it was depleting the ozone layer.  The phase out was based on the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and the Clean Air Act.

Good news, right? The EPA was acknowledging that yet one more federally-approved chemical was actually causing more harm than good. But I only found out about the banned Methyl Bromide because of the attention recently placed on Methyl Iodide. Approved in 2007, and currently used in many states as a “good” replacement for the banned Methyl Bromide, Methyl Iodide has its own set of problems.

Methyl Iodide is currently under scrutiny as the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) proposes approval of its use. Even though Methyl Iodide is used in many states already, California, which has its own pesticide approval process, has been questioning its safety level for the last year. While Methyl Iodide is not an ozone depleting pesticide like Methyl Bromide, it is extremely toxic to humans, a consistent carcinogenic that is used in the lab by chemists to induce cancer in experimental subjects such as mice. It has also been found to affect the nervous system, lungs, liver and kidneys, and to damage human fetuses.

While an independent review requested by the DPR concluded that “any anticipated scenario for … 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,” the agency is still pushing for its approval, suggesting more stringent regulations than originally spelled out by the EPA.  These tighter regulations include better training in proper application, controlling the amount used, limiting exposure for workers and requiring special permits. They would also include bigger “buffer zones” between fields sprayed with the toxin and local hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and schools.

Though it isn’t looking good, if the California proposal is rejected, it could have a large impact, possibly moving up the next scheduled federal review of Methyl Iodide, now slated for 2013. It could even help lead to a federal ban.

As the revolving doors between industry and the government continue to …revolve, it takes very little digging to unearth a sketchy connection in this situation. In 2007, the year Methyl Iodide was approved by the EPA, Elin Miller, a past employee of Arysta (the company that makes the pesticide), was EPA Administrator for Region 10, which includes Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington State and 267 Indian Tribes. Methyl Iodide was originally approved for one year, but the probationary time line was extended indefinitely as the Bush administration left office.

In the wake of President Obama’s Cancer Panel report, which found that the “risk of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated,” and links between chemicals and diseases (such as that between pesticides and ADHD) showing up regularly, the DPR’s proposal flies in the face of facts we’ve been privy to for a long time. You can send your comments about the proposal to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation until June 29th at mei_comments@cdpr.ca.gov.