No Methyl Iodide This Strawberry Season?
April marks the start of the peak growing season for California strawberries.
Last December, the state approved the use of methyl iodide despite intense public opposition. But so far, the pesticide doesn't seem to be that popular among growers either this season.
In the five counties that produce the most strawberries – Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Diego – county agricultural commissioners report that not a single permit to use the much-debated pesticide has been submitted.
The reason is more practical than political.
Methyl iodide-maker Arysta LifeScience developed the pesticide as an alternative to methyl bromide, which is being phased out of use gradually because it depletes the ozone layer. Like methyl bromide, methyl iodide would be sprayed on crop soil before planting takes place, usually in late summer, early fall – between August and October.
The state registered methyl iodide for use in December, too late to be used ahead of this year’s growing season.
The dust hasn’t settled on the fumigant’s approval, either.
A coalition of environmental and labor groups, including the United Farm Workers, sued the state in January over methyl iodide’s approval. They say the pesticide will harm farm workers and nearby communities, because it cannot be applied safely, and pollute groundwater. The pesticide is on the state’s list of cancer-causing agents, according to the suit.
And, last month, the federal EPA said it will consider a petition by the same groups to ban methyl iodide, which advocates say, signals the agency might be reviewing its approval of the fumigant.