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The Green Life: Activism: This Stuff Works

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March 23, 2012

Activism: This Stuff Works

StrawberriesThis week, Arysta Life Science, one of the largest pesticide companies in the world, announced it was pulling the product methyl iodide (MeI) off the US market. If that sounds like minor news, it’s not. Methyl iodide, a soil fumigant used predominately for strawberry production, is one of the most toxic pesticides ever to be approved by California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation.

As one might expect, Arysta did not do this out of the kindness of their own hearts. A legion of activists, environmentalists, scientists, advocacy groups, and community leaders have fought against the registration and use of this chemical tirelessly since its approval in December 2010. Business, Arysta said, was bad -- few farmers were buying MeI -- leading the company to ditch the product due to its lack of “economic viability.”

Last year, I got the opportunity to meet and write about some of these anti-MeI activists: a group of Latino high school students in the agricultural community of Watsonville, California. These lives of these individuals and their families were directly affected by the use of MeI in their backyards, around their schools, and in their communities, and their innate sense of activism was inspiring. 

In my reporting, I also had the opportunity to interview multiple representatives from Arysta Life Science. The only thing that shocked me more than their ability to spin carcinogens into health benefits, was the amount of manpower, PR, and money that Arysta had so obviously invested into this product. Abandoning this chemical after so much effort signals nothing less than a huge hit to a massive corporation. 

This action, of course, will have ripple effects on the conventional strawberry industry. With no other potent chemical available to sterilize soil (methyl bromide must be phased out per the Montreal Protocol), farmers will undoubtedly see reduced yields. This may mean no more California-grown strawberries in New Jersey in January. It also may mean that people might start thinking more about how food gets to their plate.

--Rosie Spinks / image by istockphoto/ASI

Rosie Spinks reported on the dangers of methyl iodide for Sierra magazine in 2011. This update originally appeared on Like a Gazelle and has be reprinted with the author's permission. 

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