California: Home of Cancerous Strawberries

Adriana Velez

strawberriesI think we can all agree we'd rather not eat poison strawberries. If organic strawberries cost the same as conventional strawberries, most people would probably choose the strawberries that had not been sprayed with pesticides. Most of us kind of want to put as much distance between critter-killing chemicals and our bellies as possible.

But what if the strawberries you buy make other people sick? What if eating them were perfectly safe but growing them exposed farm workers to harmful toxins? Would you care as much?

Californians just faced this dilemma. What the citizens said was surprising -- but what the state Department of Pesticide Regulation decided is even more surprising.

A pesticide used in strawberry crops called methyl iodide arrived on the farming scene a couple years ago as a supposedly safer alternative to pesticide bad boy methyl bromide. You apply methyl iodide to the soil instead of the plants, so it's supposed to control weeds without getting on the strawberries.

Sounds like a great tech solution, right?

Well, no. Methyl iodide poses health risks such as miscarriage, cancer, and permanent nerve damage (among other things) to anyone living or working within half of mile of the farm. In a hearing this summer scientists testified -- pretty much unanimously -- that the pesticide was too new and dangerous to use.

Then over 53,000 people sent in letters in opposition to approving the pesticide for use in California. People who would not be directly harmed by the strawberries, ordinary grocery shoppers, took the time to tell the Department of Pesticide Regulation that they didn't think this pesticide should be unleashed on California.

So what did the Department of Pesticide Regulation say? Screw you, scientists and citizens. We're approving this pesticide anyway.

My question now is, will strawberries grown in soil treated with methyl iodide be labeled as such? Wouldn't it be nice if we had access to that kind of information? Do you think farmers would still use that pesticide if they had to list it on strawberry boxes?


Image via aloshbennett/Flickr.

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