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Toxic Strawberries from California? What You Need to Know

Image: Julien Haler

A group of California legislators are calling on the EPA to ban the use of methyl iodide in  growing strawberries just a few months after the state approved the use of the fumigant.  It feels like every few months, some chemical comes along and you hear about it for a little while, everybody advertises that they don’t use it, then you never hear of it again. It’s hard to know what to be concerned about. So what is methyl iodide, is it safe, and what should you do? Brooklyn Supper has the answers.

Methyl iodide is a chemical with a wide variety of agricultural uses that was approved for use as a soil fumigant by the EPA in 2007. However, a number of states such as New York, Washington, and, until recently, California continued to ban its use. It began coming into wide use after methyl bromide, which destroys the ozone layer, was banned. It is used particularly in growing strawberries, and since 90% of US strawberries come from California, the decision has a huge impact on strawberries in stores across the nation.

There are differing opinions on the toxicity of methyl bromide, but the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and Center for Disease Control both classify it as a potential workplace carcinogen and experiments on rats and rabbits seem to confirm that. It can also affect the neurological and reproductive system.

So, what should you do? In general, limiting the number of toxic chemicals you consume is a good idea. At Brooklyn Supper HQ, we don’t always eat organic, but we make an effort to do so when it’s practical. Strawberries are one food that we don’t mess around with, though. Because of their porous skin and high surface area to size ratio, they are really given to being permeated with things from the soil in which they are grown, in a way that, say, apples are not. So, when it comes to strawberries, we advise avoiding the neurotoxic carcinogen and spending a little extra to get the organic. Another great option is to hit up your local farmer’s market–small growers can tell you what they use and are less likely to use harsh chemicals on small quantities of crops.

Want to get involved? Food Democracy Now is working to get methyl iodide banned. Click here for more information on their site.

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