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200,000 Voices: Keep Pesticide Out of Strawberries

For immediate release: May 13, 2011

CONTACTS:
Kathryn Gilje, Pesticide Action Network North America, cell 415-235-9437
Paul Towers, Pesticide Watch Education Fund, cell 916-216-1082
Tracey Brieger, Californians for Pesticide Reform, cell 415-215-5473

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As national public comment period closes on methyl iodide,
US EPA urged to ban methyl iodide and support green farming

WASHINGTON, DC—As part of a public comment period closing today, the country’s top scientists, businesses and over 200,000 members of the public have urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to prioritize scientific evidence over corporate influence and ban the cancer-causing pesticide methyl iodide. Methyl iodide, called “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth” by the country’s top scientists, is promoted by Arysta LifeScience—the largest privately-held agrochemical company in the world and manufacturer of the pesticide.

Arysta has hired lobbying and public relations firms, including former Bush Administration strategist J. Scott Jennings at Peritus Public Relations, to influence government officials to ignore independent science and secure approval for methyl iodide nationally and in California, potentially one of the most lucrative markets in the nation for the pesticide.

A letter submitted to EPA on May 7, 2011, authored by 39 distinguished scientists, including three Nobel laureates in Chemistry, notes that methyl iodide is: “one of the more hazardous chemicals used in research labs and in the chemical industry, and it seems counterintuitive that EPA would work on one hand to prevent and document relatively small releases of methyl iodide used in research and chemical manufacturing, while permitting what will likely be millions of pounds to be used annually in agriculture near homes, schools and workplaces.”

The letter concludes that “rigorously conducted analysis indicates that methyl iodide cannot be used safely as a soil fumigant and serves as a sound scientific basis for US EPA to cancel all agricultural uses of methyl iodide.”

“The country’s top scientists have been outspoken against using methyl iodide in the fields precisely because they know how dangerous it is,” noted Anne Katten, Pesticide and Work Safety Specialist with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. “When the scientific community speaks out so strongly on an issue, we should heed their warnings.”

Methyl iodide is a carcinogen—scientists use it in labs to create cancer cells—and can cause late term miscarriages and contaminate water. It is a soil fumigant that would be primarily used in the nation’s strawberry, tomato and pepper fields. It was approved for agricultural use by the Bush Administration’s EPA in 2007. Of the few states that conduct additional scientific review before allowing use of pesticides, both New York and Washington have refused to approve methyl iodide. California‘s independent scientific review committee commissioned to examine the science on methyl iodide concluded in 2010 that agricultural use “…would result in exposures to a large number of the public and thus would have a significant adverse impact on the public health,” and “adequate control of human exposure would be difficult, if not impossible.”

These strong findings convinced Washington State to refuse approval of methyl iodide, yet California’s Schwarzenegger Administration approved the pesticide for use in December 2010, ignoring scientific evidence and the voices of over 50,000 Californians who opposed the registration. California provides 86% of the strawberries to the US market.

“The science is crystal clear: methyl iodide is far too dangerous to use in agriculture where it can poison farm workers, wildlife, and surrounding populations. It is grossly irresponsible of the EPA to keep this pesticide registered, and that’s why over 97,000 CREDO Action members submitted public comments asking the agency to revoke its approval,” said Adam Klaus, Campaign Manager for CREDO Action.

The EPA’s comment period—which closes at midnight EST today—was initiated in response to a petition filed in March 2010 by 11 public health, labor, environment and farmworker advocacy organizations from across the country, who highlighted the findings of California’s independent scientific review of the chemical. In response to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (CA) request that EPA decision-makers formally reconsider the decision to approve methyl iodide in August 2010, EPA officials agreed to open a public comment period, but waited until March 2011 to solicit public input.

Despite the claims that it would not be possible to grow strawberries without methyl iodide, organic growers across the state do so successfully every year: there is a thriving organic strawberry industry in California and around the country. “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.”

Comments submitted to US EPA are viewable at: http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;dct=FR+PR+N+O+SR+PS;rpp=10;po=0;D=EPA-HQ-OPP-2010-0541

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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