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Strawberry Pesticide Abruptly Pulled from Market

March 23, 2012

PHOENIX – It's the end of the line for methyl iodide. The maker of the controversial pesticide used on strawberry crops says it is pulling out of United States markets, including California, which produces more than 80 percent of the nation's strawberries and is the main source of those sold in Arizona.

The announcement comes as a California judge was about to issue his decision in a lawsuit aimed at prohibiting the use of the chemical, marketed under the brand-name Midas.

Attorney Greg Loarie with Earthjustice represented the United Farm Workers and seven other clients in the case, challenging California's 2010 approval of the fumigant. Loarie calls it a victory for farm workers and those who live near strawberry fields.

"The decision to suspend all sales of methyl iodide – not just in California, but in the nation – is a tremendous victory, and really ensures that the public will not be exposed to this dangerous chemical."

The manufacturer, Arysta LifeScience, Inc., says the move is a financial decision based on market research.

Methyl iodide was approved just two years ago as a replacement for methyl bromide, and California farmers are unlikely to feel much impact when it is removed from the market. According to Loarie, it had rarely been used there, with only five fumigations reported since 2010. Some farmers are already using alternatives, he adds.

"There's no question that we can grow food in California. We can grow high-quality food and affordable food without putting the public at risk, and we can do that without using dangerous chemicals."

One effort to improve the situation is coming from California's Department of Pesticide Regulation in partnership with the California Strawberry Commission. They're researching ways to avoid soil fumigants altogether, by exploring whether strawberries can be grown in peat or other substances.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ