Are Strawberries With Methyl Iodide Safe to Eat?

Green groups, California regulators face off over strawberry farm poison: Before you pop that strawberry into your mouth, consider this: you could be helping poison the farmers who grow these strawberries, as well as their children, and the groundwater in the farms they tend.

That’s according to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), other environmental activists and scientists who are behind a suit asking California’s pesticide regulators to overturn its decision allowing the use of methyl iodide as a fumigant, mostly in strawberry farms.

According to PAN, exposure to methyl iodide “causes late term miscarriages, contaminates groundwater and is so reliably carcinogenic that it’s used to create cancer cells in laboratories.”

Last year, lawyers from PAN, Earthjustice and California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. filed suit challenging the chemical’s approval on behalf of several environmental and farm workers groups.

The farmers, many of them those who tend California’s vast strawberry fields, claimed that state officials approved the fumigant despite scientists’ warnings as well as warnings from the state’s own DPR.

There’s no danger for strawberry lovers, though. Applied to soil before planting, the controversial chemical poses little risk to consumers of the popular fruit. But for farm workers who apply it and people who live near treated fields — especially their children — methyl iodide is a clear and ever-present danger, as it can be carried on the wind.

Undoubtedly poison
“When researchers want to intentionally create cancerous cells in laboratories, they often use methyl iodide, a chemical that is also a neurotoxin and causes late-term miscarriages,” notes Barry Estabrook in an article for the Atlantic.

“Nobody disputes that methyl iodide is a potent poison,” Earthjustice lawyer Greg Loarie said in a press release in 2010, when it filed the suit.

“By approving the cancer-causing pesticide, California’s pesticide regulators ignored the science and broke important laws designed to protect public health,” the group said.

Earlier, before the fumigant was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 50 scientists—including five Nobel laureates in chemistry—wrote an “urgent” letter to the EPA pleading that methyl iodide not be approved for agricultural use.

Writing the letter toward the end of the Bush II administration, the scientists said: “We are concerned that pregnant women and the fetus, children, the elderly, farm workers, and other people living near application sites would be at serious risk if methyl iodide is permitted for use in agriculture.”