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Groups Call for Halting of Strawberry Pesticide

Our friends at asked us to spread the following press release:

December 10, 2009
For immediate release

Tracey Brieger, Californians for Pesticide Reform
Cell: 415.215.5473

Paul S. Towers, Pesticide Watch
Cell: 916.216.1082

Scientists, workers & mothers to rally against new carcinogen for California strawberries

Multinational pesticide corporation pushing potent carcinogen and water contaminant in California; State regulators’ decision expected in coming weeks

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Concerned scientists, farmers, and community members from across the state will march and rally in Sacramento on Monday, December 14th to oppose the potential registration of a new fumigant pesticide. If chemical manufacturers get their way, methyl iodide, a potential groundwater contaminant, carcinogen and miscarriage-inducer could be applied to thousands of acres of California’s strawberry fields by January.

Californians are greatly disturbed by the actions of the multinational pesticide corporation Arysta LifeScience North America. The largest privately held agrichemical company in the world and methyl iodide manufacturer, Arysta has launched a concerted campaign to influence California regulators’ decision on the chemical, expected in the coming weeks. The public relations firm Peritus, who lists Arysta LifeScience as one of its leading clients, has launched an effort to characterize methyl iodide opponents—including doctors, farmers, mothers, farmworkers and world-renowned scientists—as extremists in order to get access to California’s lucrative market.

The use of methyl iodide in agriculture has raised significant concern from scientists across the country, including five Nobel Laureates in Chemistry, who were “astonished” that a chemical posing such high risks to human health would be considered for use in agriculture. Methyl iodide is a water contaminant, nervous system poison, thyroid toxicant and is listed on California’s Proposition 65 list of “chemicals known to cause cancer.”

“Methyl iodide is toxic in so many ways,” said Dr. Susan Kegley, a scientist with Pesticide Action Network North America. “But the effect of greatest concern is the pesticide’s ability to cause fetal deaths late in pregnancy. The Schwarzenegger administration has a very serious choice to make: are they going to allow the use of a pesticide that has a high probability of causing late-term miscarriages in women who live or work near methyl iodide applications? If they permit the use of this chemical in California’s fields, that’s the swamp they are stepping into.”

Methyl iodide poses the most direct risks to farm workers and neighboring communities. In California, the chemical would be primarily used on strawberry fields at rates up to 175 lbs per acre. With 38,000 acres of strawberries currently in production in California, five to 10 million pounds of methyl iodide could be used statewide. Like all fumigants (pesticides that readily become gases), methyl iodide drifts from its intended target, despite any efforts to contain it.

“Why is methyl iodide even being considered?” asked Teresa DeAnda, President of the community group El Comité Para el Bienestar de Earlimart. “We will not let the agrochemical industry’s greenwashing earn Arysta tremendous profits while we – as farmworkers and community members – are given cancer like lab rats.”

Concern over the potential registration of methyl iodide isn’t limited to scientists. In August, Assemblymember Bill Monning (Carmel) and Senator Mark Leno (San Francisco) co-authored a letter signed by 33 state legislators in opposition to the proposed use of this new fumigant in California. Growers also affirm that the use of methyl iodide is not necessary.

“I’ve been growing strawberries without using pesticides in California for 25 years,” said Jim Cochran, owner of Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, California. “It’s certainly possible to grow commercially-viable and ecologically sound strawberry crops without using methyl iodide or any other chemical pesticides.”

Methyl iodide was registered nationally under the Bush Administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, automatically registering it in a number of states that don’t conduct independent scientific reviews. California has its own review process for all new pesticides, and is currently considering methyl iodide for registration.

The California Department of Pesticide Registration (DPR) has convened a Scientific Review Panel led by Professor John Froines at the University of California, Los Angeles, to examine DPR’s science in assessing the risks of the chemical. DPR may issue a decision any time in the coming weeks, whether or not they have received the final report from the Scientific Review Panel.

Pending results of California’s scientific review, U.S. EPA is reconsidering their decision to allow the chemical to be used in other states. According to U.S. EPA, methyl iodide is only being used in seven states. In New York, Arysta pulled its request to register the chemical because the state asked tough questions on health and environmental impacts – and because the New York market for the chemical is small. Like California, Washington State is also in the process of reviewing the risks of methyl iodide.

Rally & News Conference details:

WHEN: Monday, December 14, 2009
11:15am: Rally at Cesar Chavez Park
10th & “I” Streets, Sacramento

11:50am: March to Capitol Building

12:15pm: News conference at South steps of Capitol Building
(“N” Street side)

WHO: Speakers include:

· Martha Guzman-Aceves, Legislative Advocate, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation
· California Assemblymember Bill Monning
· Marilyn Lynds, Spokesperson and Resident, Moss Landing Heights Neighborhood
· Other speakers, TBA (including farmworkers)

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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