Grist reported on Valentine’s Day that one of the biggest farm communities in California – Monterey County – banned the notorious fumigant methyl iodide. Along with Santa Cruz, Monterey County has taken this step of doing away with this harmful chemical from farmlands.
Methyl iodide is the the replacement for ozone-depleting methyl bromide. Methyl bromide is going to be phased out of use in the state by 2015, in accordance with the Montreal Protocol.
Anti-pesticide advocates have been pushing lawmakers to take methyl iodide off the table altogether, although only a handful of applications have been recorded in the state. Studies have shown that methyl iodide can lead to disruption of thyroid function and could also be a potential carcinogen.
The chemical is marketed under the name Midas, and is used to kill pests and weeds. It is used primarily for the cultivation of strawberries, chili peppers, and walnut trees. The controversy over the chemical has been going on for years, finally reaching the peak in 2010 when Department of Pesticide Regulation managers overuled not only a peer review panel, but also their own scientists to approve the chemical for use in California.
Since then, the Bay Citizen reports that, “Earthjustice and California Rural Legal Assistance have sued the state Department of Pesticide Regulation on behalf of environmentalists and farm workers, arguing that regulators put politics before safety in approving methyl iodide, and demanding the decision be reversed.”
Last summer, in Fresco County one application of methyl iodide resulted in wide-spread protest. Because of the public intervention, the issue has escalated to a political pressure point, which is something that growers and recognizable brands realized. Big agri-firms could ill afford a boycott of their products and farmers have reported mixed results with the chemical.
According to the advocacy group, Pesticide Watch, “California produces over 80 percent of the nation’s strawberries, and cities such as Salinas and Watsonville account for almost half of the state’s strawberry acreage. Monterey County is a major target for use of methyl iodide.”
They now hope that this ban will lead to a California-wide evaluation of pesticide use. According to Californian law, there needs to be a half-mile buffer zone between fields that are fumigated with the chemical and homes, schools and other areas. This, along with the high-cost of methyl iodide has made farmers reluctant to use the product resulting in its low usage. The product is still used widely in southeastern US, including Florida.
The ban against methyl iodide in Monterey County, which traditionally supports conventional farming, is bound to put pressure on neighboring counties like Leahy and Brown to re-examine their pesticide policies. It is also a victory for local activists and a step towards pesticide-free agriculture.
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