Methyl iodide was approved for agricultural use by California's Department of Pesticide Regulation in December. The carcinogenic fumigant was approved despite large opposition across the state.
Locally, the proposed fumimant was opposed by Pesticide Watch of Santa Cruz, the local P.T.A., and even student groups in the area.
Methyl bromide has long been the preferred fumigant of strawberry growers, but because of the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty regulating ozone depleting chemicals, it was phased out completely in 2005. Local growers have been allowed to continue treating their soil with it because of a clause within the treaty that allows its use if there are no economically reasonable alternatives. Now that methyl iodide has been registered as an alternative, farmers will have to make the switch.
Although there has not been any other pesticide put to the state's Department of Pesticide Regulation, accepting methyl iodide as an alternative should be done hesitantly. Scientists have said exposure levels should be kept below what is possible with today's application and field practices. Even with strict new guidelines for methyl iodide's use, many fear that the health of field workers and neighboring residents will become compromised.
Methyl iodide is a known carcinogen under Prop 65 and is also known to be a neurotoxin; although, this aspect of the substance has been little studied, leading many to fear that the health effects will be much broader in scope than those of methyl bromide.
Another possible outcome of the switch is that production costs for farmers may go up. The stricter guidelines require its application to be more slowly, with more supervision, and with more materials than before. This will cause production costs to go up and, ultimately, berry prices too.
This isn't all that may hurt berry growers economically. The strong public opposition to the use of the fumigant may cause consumers to shy away or outright boycott strawberries that have been grown in methyl iodide treated soils.
However, the move to methyl iodine may have hit a hurdle earlier this month, when a group of farmers filed a lawsuit arguing that use of the chemical will violate California Environmental Quality Act, the California Birth Defects Prevention Act and the Pesticide Contamination Prevention Act.
This impending switch may provide an opportunity for local berry growers and consumers to question the use of fumigants and pesticides and consider supporting organic growing methods for strawberries. Such a switch may prove the healthy choice for consumers, local residents, farm workers, and farmer's wallets.