Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Strawberries as a crop are sensitive to a variety of pests, so most growers fumigate the soil with methyl bromide or other pesticides before they plant. Methyl bromide is fairly nasty stuff (which is why it makes an effective pesticide & fungicide) and in addition it damages the ozone layer. A number of years ago, the EPA called for a phaseout of methyl bromide use to protect the environment, and strawberry farmers were in an uproar, since their crops to some extent depend on the substance. Eventually the farmers got a "critical use exception" and were allowed to continue using the substance in spite of the problems it creates.

A new proposal is to switch from methyl bromide to methyl iodide. The latter doesn't harm the ozone, but is perhaps even nastier. This is a good thing for farmers trying to kill bugs and fungi, but a less good thing when you live or work near (or in) a field where it's been applied. Responding to the pressure to phase out methyl bromide, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation is pushing methyl iodide. It has a couple of strikes against it: first, it's expensive, so smaller farmers couldn't really afford it. Second, its toxicity is so intense that scientists don't believe it can be used safely.

How do we balance these things: ozone, worker health, and strawberries? Lots of issues!

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