Food Chain Farm

Strawberry Pesticide Wars
I have described in the “Master List of Plants” section how we have an abundance of strawberries in our gardens with very little special care.  This makes the story of commercial strawberry production almost a Shakespearean tragedy.
Farmers in California grow nearly 90 percent of the nation’s strawberries, a $2 billion a year industry.  Granted, it is far removed from my little patch of paradise, but it is a grim story.
For years, we have observed strawberry production in Vista and Carlsbad, both neighboring cities.  In fact, watching this process is one of the first impressions of So Cal when we moved here.  We observed field being completely cleared of all vegetation and then special trenches being dug covered with black plastic.  Strawberries plants soon appeared in these perfect rows, over hundreds of acres of them - It was quite a sight.   
Soon we began our creating our raised beds and found that the local farmer’s market was selling strawberry plants.  I didn’t know anything about growing strawberries at the time, but found that they thrived and produced an abundance of sweet, juice berries.  I assumed that the following spring, I would have to clear the beds and replant assuming they were annuals and would die off each year.  This was hardly the case – the plants grew and spread and I transplanted them into two more raised beds.  This left me confused about the commercial practices.  If the plants will produce and spread so easily – why do they clear the field and replant each year?  I soon had my answer.
For decades, farmers injected methyl bromide, into the soil before planting strawberries.  It kills everything in the field and they will not be troubled by weeds (or probably small mammals that might dig in the field and eat the fruit.) Then the Montreal Protocol international climate treaty banned methyl bromide, saying it had been found to deplete ozone. That sent regulators, farmers and the chemical industry scrambling for an alternative.  They found a chemical less harmful to the ozone, but with more potential hazards to human health.
As a result, in the final days of the Schwarzenegger administration, officials approved a new dangerous pesticide in California in 2010. Methyl iodide, "one of the most toxic chemicals on earth," was aggressively pushed by manufacturer Arysta LifeScience Corporation, the largest private pesticide company in the world.  Arysta said that based on the available data, the chemical could be used safely with precautions like respirators, impermeable tarps and extra restrictions on use around schools, businesses and homes - would trust the corporate farms to make sure these protections are always in place?

Reversal of these decisions lies in the hands of California Governor Jerry Brown and U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. It's up to us to make sure that chemical industry influence doesn't overrule science as our government leaders decide.

“This is without question one of the most toxic chemicals on earth,” said John Froines, professor of environmental health sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. “You don’t register a chemical when you don’t have the necessary information you need.”
“I’m not in blanket opposition to the use of pesticides, but methyl iodide alarms me,” said Theodore A. Slotkin, a professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke University Medical Center and a member of the scientific review committee. “When we come across a compound that is known to be neurotoxic, as well as developmentally toxic and an endocrine disruptor,
More than 35 scientists from across the country, including three Nobel laureates, urged U.S. EPA on May 7, 2011 to cancel all uses of methyl iodide. From their letter, "This rigorously conducted analysis indicates that methyl iodide cannot be used safely as a soil fumigant and serves as a sound scientific basis for U.S. EPA to cancel all agricultural uses of methyl iodide."

Further Information:
Pesticide Action Network on Cal Strawberries:

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