Southern California environment news and trends

New task force tackles strawberry pesticide alternatives

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Norbert Millauer/AFP/Getty Images

California’s strawberry industry has taken a substantial hit this year in terms of pesticides. Just as controversy over the use of methyl iodide was coming to a boil (opponents of the chemical claim it causes cancer), the pesticide’s Japanese manufacturer, Arysta LifeScience, pulled it from the American market.

With methyl iodide already a replacement for the pesticide methyl bromide (phased out after being cited as an ozone-depleting agent), California’s strawberry farmers have been left with little alternatives to combat insects and diseases that attack their crops.

As reported by the Southwest Farm Press, the Department of Pesticide Regulation has put together a special panel of scientists, farmers, and industry advocates to create a five-year plan of action for finding alternative ways of handling the situation without the use of controversial chemicals. The task force has been given until the fall of this year to draft a plan.


Company ends U.S. distribution of controversial strawberry pesticide

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Mark J. Terrill/AP

Just as the war over strawberry pesticide methyl iodide (also known as “Midas”) that we've been following was really heating up, it’s ended in the most abrupt fashion. As reported by MSNBC, Japanese manufacturer Arysta LifeScience announced this week that they’ve stopped all sales, marketing and production of the product in America.

"It's a financial decision," said a spokesperson for the company to the Grower. "It will allow Arysta to refocus its resources on other business."

The debate over the health risks of methyl iodide had reached a fever pitch recently, as the Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of California Gov. Jerry Brown to reconsider using it over claims that it causes cancer.

"Arysta saw the writing on the wall and decided to pre-emptively pull cancer-causing methyl iodide off the shelves," said Paul Towers, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the state's decision to authorize its use to the Ventura County Star. "This is an opportunity for California's leaders to help our farmers transition away from the use of fumigants.”


California Strawberry Commission and Department of Pesticide Regulation launch fumigant research partnership

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Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

There’s quite the war being waged in Monterey County over the use of pesticides in the county’s plentiful strawberry fields. As we reported last month, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of asking California Gov. Jerry Brown to reconsider the use of pesticides like methyl iodide, which according to some is a cancer-causing agent. There are passionate supporters on both sides of the debate, which doesn’t look like to be resolved anytime soon.

Still, there’s hope. It was announced this week that the California Strawberry Commission and the Department of Pesticide are going to dedicate three years and $500,000 from a state grant to a joint research project in order to find alternatives to fumigant pesticides, including growing the berries in other substances that soil.


Monterey County supervisors vote to reconsider strawberry fumigant

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Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Pesticide methyl iodide has been generating controversy for years. By the time the State of California approved its use on local crops, California Senator Diane Feinstein had already called the fumigant into question over findings that it causes cancer. 

Last week, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of a resolution that asks California governor Jerry Brown to take another look at the just how safe it is to use the much-debated chemical, according to the Californian.

It’s a hotly contested debate in Monterey County, as methyl iodide is used to fumigate strawberry crops, which is a $751 million industry in the county. It had been approved by the EPA as a replacement for pesticide methyl bromide in 2007, with California’s Department of Pesticides getting onboard in 2010, despite methyl iodide being on the state’s list of cancer-causing agents.