Iowa Public Television


Controversial Strawberry Pesticide Pulled From US

posted on March 23, 2012

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - The maker of a controversial strawberry
pesticide said it's pulling all sales of the chemical from the U.S.
market, surprising growers and environmentalists.
     Tokyo-based Arysta LifeScience Inc. said late Tuesday that it's
immediately suspending the sale, marketing and production of all
formulations of the fumigant Midas, or methyl iodide in the U.S.
     The company said the decision is based on the product's economic
viability in the United States.
     California regulators approved use of methyl iodide in December
2010 despite opposition from scientists and environmental and
farmworker groups who claim it's highly toxic and can cause cancer.
Environmentalists and public health advocates have since been
pressuring Gov. Jerry Brown's administration to reconsider the
     An Alameda County Superior Court judge was expected to rule soon
on a lawsuit by environmentalists who asked the state to vacate
approval for the fumigant.
     The chemical, which is injected into soil, kills bugs, weeds and
plant diseases. It's used by some growers of tomatoes, peppers and
other crops. In California, it was primarily targeted for use by
the large strawberry industry.
     Methyl iodide was widely seen as a replacement for another
fumigant, methyl bromide, which is being phased out under
international treaty because it depletes the Earth's ozone. The new
fumigant was approved by the U.S. EPA and registered in 48 states.
     Arysta officials said methyl iodide was applied "without a
single safety violation" on 17,000 acres across the southeast - a
tiny fraction of farmland - since it was first registered five
years ago.
     But the new fumigant never took off in California. Only five
applications - all under five acres - took place since the state
registered the pesticide. That included a single strawberry farmer
using the chemical on a small test site.
     Arysta officials said the company will continue to maintain the
federal Midas label registered with the EPA. The company will also
assess whether to maintain registration with the 48 states
     Environmentalists who clamored to get the chemical off the
market hailed the unexpected decision and attributed it to their
political and legal pressure. They said the news comes just in time
for spring strawberry season.
     "This is a pleasant surprise and a huge victory, especially for
rural residents and farmworkers across the country," said Paul
Towers of Pesticide Action Network. "Arysta saw the writing on the
wall and chose to pull their cancer-causing methyl iodide
     It's unclear how the company's decision will affect the pending
lawsuit. California Department of Pesticide Regulation spokeswoman
Lea Brooks said Arysta has not requested voluntary cancellation of
the fumigant's registration.
     The strawberry industry was also surprised by the decision, said
Carolyn O'Donnell, communications director for the California
Strawberry Commission. Growers are concerned, O'Donnel said, about
the future implications of methyl iodide being pulled off the
shelves while methyl bromide is being phased out.
     In recent years, the Strawberry Commission has poured more than
$12 million into university research to look at alternatives to
fumigation, such as crop rotation, eliminating soil pathogens by
using natural sources of carbon and sterilizing soil with steam.
     And earlier this month, the commission and the California
Department of Pesticide Regulation announced a research partnership
looking for alternatives to fumigants. The $500,000, three-year
project is will focus on growing strawberries in peat, tree bark or
other non-soil substances that are disease-free.
     While alternatives are being developed, some growers are still
relying on methyl bromide, the fumigant that's being phased out,
while others have switched to fumigants such as chloropicrin and
metam sodium, O'Donnell said.
     Part of the reason why growers might have been reluctant to use
methyl iodide, O'Donnell said, is because the regulations were so
     "People like to live where berries like to grow," O'Donnell
said. "A lot of times, because of that, the rules excluded a lot
of the acres from being fumigated."

Tags: agriculture Arysta Lifescience Inc. Mythol Iodide pesticides strawberries