About a mile from our house are several large farms. On the face of it this would seem to be a good thing, but in fact much of the farmland surrounding us is used for conventional growing. Before buying in the area, we talked to several environmental scientists that we knew to determine whether or not the health risk from pesticide exposure would be especially troublesome. What we heard was basically reassuring.
Then, about a week ago, went down over the land. Next we started seeing guys in hazmat suits working trucks with hoses, which was a pretty clear indication that they were applying methyl bromide underground. No matter how reassuring our friends in the chemistry department had been, seeing the workers in full-body protective suiting was terrifying.
Methyl bromide is a powerful toxin. It kills all life it comes in contact with – plant, animal, and insect. It also knocks out all fungus, which is typically why it is used. Extremely strict regulations govern its usage, making it generally much safer for the people living and working around it than it is for the environment as a whole. This is to say that humans seem to tolerate it in small quantities about as well as they tolerate other pesticides – inconclusively poorly.
Meanwhile, the ecosystem hates methyl bromide. The stuff reduces ozone at such a fast clip that it has now been banned from all use and is slowly being phased out. Methyl bromide, which would otherwise be carefully guarded and prohibited from entering the environment at all, has been allowed to sterilize the land in order to bring the people strawberries.
Strawberries, in their natural state, are almost ridiculously delicate. We used to get organic heirloom varieties at our former CSA, and they would deteriorate painfully fast. I would try to feed my kids as many berries as I could the day we got them, because they rarely lasted more than a few days, and never for a full week. To make strawberries more resilient (and marketable), they have been bred for toughness and size, and an application of methyl bromide ensures that the berries can travel long distances and sit on shelves without growing a fungus picked up in the field. If you live in Indiana and are buying strawberries in March, almost surely, you are supporting the industry that relies on poisoning the ecosystem for its income.
This is to say nothing of the poison you ingest with non-organic strawberries. Strawberries first came to my attention back in 2003, thanks to The Healthy Kitchen, in which Dr. Weil carefully articulates why one should never purchase conventionally grown strawberries as a health concern. Since then, strawberries have long been at the top of the Dirty Dozen lists, containing residue from 59 pesticides. Ingestion of this pesticide residue has been linked to myriad health issues ranging from ADHD to cancer.
Of course, it gets worse. Now that methyl bromide has been outlawed, the California assembly is considering approval of methyl iodide. There has been rather a large outcry against the measure, as many biologists consider methyl iodide to be more dangerous to humans than the current toxins. The environmental scientist I asked about the situation thought the outcry was faintly ridiculous, since it is all outrageously toxic. The only way to be sure that you are not buying into the economy that makes this sort of action acceptable is to refuse to purchase ANY inorganic strawberries.
So for any of you who are out there keeping track, I now have two campaigns going:
I will continue to post about the outcome of the methyl iodide debate. In the meantime, I simply beg any of you non-Californians reading this to stop purchasing California strawberries. The surest way to eliminate the destruction of the environment and human health through methyl iodide is to remove the economic incentive for people to do so.