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Pesticides: To Be or Not To Be?

June 10, 2010


Photo Credit: Anushruti on Flickr.com

Most people would assume that the life of a strawberry is free of dramatics and controversy. But recent discussions regarding the pesticides that are used in the growing process have proven quite the contrary.  And since summertime is the best time to eat delicious strawberries, it’s a notable discussion.

Just a few weeks ago, California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) Director Mary-Ann Warmerdam proposed registration of methyliodide, which is an alternative to the commonly used methyl bromide. Methyl bromide is used to treat soil where strawberries, nursery plants and nut trees are to be planted, and has been found to be more destructive to the ozone layer than the recently recommended methyl iodide.

The proposed registration comes with a comprehensive set of use restrictions that are much more stringent than those required by the federal government. Examples of those increased restrictions include:

  • larger buffer zones around all applications
  • a minimum of a half–mile buffer around schools, hospitals, nursing homes and similar sites
  • reduced application rates and acreage that can be treated
  • application limits to protect groundwater

Methyl iodide, also called iodomethane, is licensed for use in 47 other states including Arizona. Injected into soil before crops are planted, the fumigant spreads through the soil to kill insects, weed seeds, plant diseases and nematodes. It can be applied by drip irrigation under a special protective tarp or injected into the soil using a tractor that automatically places a tarp over the ground after application.

Warmerdam made it clear in a statement that neither this nor any other chemical registered by the DPR can be dangerous to the crop, the consumer or to the environment.

“By law, we cannot register a pesticide unless it can be used safely,” said Warmerdam. “My department considered a wide range of scientific input and followed protocols of both U.S. EPA and the World Health Organization to develop use restrictions to prevent potentially unsafe exposures.”

The debate rages on as to whether or not the loss of methyl bromide would be detrimental to agricultural work or if methyl iodide would be a worthy alternative. DPR has said it will be evaluate public comments on the proposed registration before deciding whether to proceed.

Both conventional and organic farmers use chemicals for pest and weed control. The disctinction between organic is their approved chemicals are natural, not manmade. But we all know how destructive mother nature can be. And since a carcinogen is a carcinogen, the key is to properly regulate the use of natural and manmade chemicals to protect the population and our globe while working to also protect food production for a growing world.

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