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Farmworkers Savor Sweet Taste of Victory

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View Trip Van Noppen's blog posts
13 April 2012, 3:05 PM
Earthjustice suit pressures company to nix toxic pesticide

Last month—less than a year after Earthjustice sued to protect strawberry field workers from a deadly pesticide—the maker of that pesticide has taken it off the market. This means that those who labor on our behalf can themselves enjoy the fruits of their labor without fear of crippling or even fatal results.

The issue arose when the former head of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation threw caution (and their own scientists’ warnings) to the wind in approving methyl iodide, a highly toxic pesticide and known carcinogen that’s used primarily in strawberry fields. A month later, Earthjustice sued the department on behalf of a coalition of groups and farmworkers for violating several state environmental health laws meant to curb these kinds of irresponsible and politically motivated decisions.

The lawsuit was strengthened by a huge public outcry and warnings from several dozen eminent scientists about methyl iodide, which has been called “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth.”

The pesticide not only threatens the men and women who work in the fields where the fumigant is applied, but, because of its volatility, also threatens nearby communities who come into the crosshairs of pesticide drift, subjecting people living, working, and playing nearby to serious health risks.

Arysta, the manufacturer of methyl iodide, withdrew it from the national market just as the California Superior Court was about to issue its decision in the Earthjustice lawsuit. This good news, however, is tempered by the continuing harmful agricultural practices used across the land. Earthjustice is working on several fronts to combat these practices and to promote sustainable, safe alternatives, including:

  • Challenging the EPA’s failure to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a toxic chemical widely used in orchards and agricultural fields across the country whose exposure has been linked to headaches, seizures, low birth weights and developmental delays.
  • Strengthening regulations for CAFOs—Confined Animal Feeding Operations—which house thousands to millions of farm animals and create massive amounts of pollution, threatening a community’s air and water.
  • Protecting farmworkers by petitioning the EPA to implement stronger protections for farmworkers against the hazardous health impacts of pesticides.
  • Calling for manufacturers to fully disclose all ingredients in their pesticides, including so-called “inert” ingredients, which lack comprehensive testing and whose effects are largely unknown.
  • Holding polluters accountable for water pollution in Florida, whose postcard-perfect blue waters are green and choked with nasty, toxic algae caused by inadequately treated sewage, manure and fertilizer.
  • Suing the USDA for approving genetically engineered crops modified to resist large amounts of herbicides, resulting in increased herbicide use, a surge in "superweeds," and the contamination of organic and conventional crops.

In pursuit of these objectives, Earthjustice is in for difficult struggles over long periods of time. Progress in such struggles is usually measured in small doses as opposed to the swift, decisive victory that we achieved with methyl iodide. But, whether short term or long, success always comes from our partnership with supporters, like you, who make it possible for us to use the power of law effectively.

As long as people are allowed to go back and forth between jobs in the FDA and drug companies and chemical companies you are going to have an unholy alliance. We need more lobbying regulations in place.

What will stop the manufacturer to start producing methyl iodide again in a few months?
That is what happened with sodium Nitrates added to lunch meats.

Don't forget the history of Nitrates added to Lunchmeats. Due to the overwhelming evidence that adding nitrates to lunch meats was too carcinogenic for public consumption, they were going to become illegal. But on the eve of the passing of legislation banning nitrates the industry pulled them from the marketplace voluntarily and so no legislation was passed. Then when the fuss died down they quietly reintroduced the nitrates and they are still in our lunch meats today. Who is going to be watching the Methyl Iodide production in the future and raise the money for a new fight if it is reintroduced?
How long will it take until all the methyl iodide in farmers storage sheds is used up? How long until there are no traces in the strawberries in the stores?

Very good points! Very good!!!

we live in a sick, sad world, where profit come before everything else. if you can sell more product, then apparently anything is acceptable. animals suffer, people eat poisons, the earth is destroyed, all in the name of money. so this chemical has been banned. this action is only a drop in the bucket. every drop counts, but the human race has lost its way in my opinion and nothing short of complete disaster can turn things around in a totally new direction.

It's a terrible thing that a disaster has to happen before the eyes are opened. Opened to the point they won't close until a problem is resolved. Animals are tortured. Men , women, children and babies, are poisoned. And it's not the terrorists doing it. It's our own government. It's hard to pick just one agency. There are some who are out there, we all need to get involved. We can help move things in the right direction.

This is good news. As a retired organic chemist who worked with many toxic reagents, I could not believe that methyl iodide was even considered for use. It's dangers were well known in the lab and I was always cautious even when very small amounts were used. Its proponents may claim that the methyl iodide would not escape from the soil and harm workers but I believe that Arysta's own tests indicated that was not the case.

I am certainly glad to see that Methyl Idodide is no longer to be sold in the United States. But that will not keep it off of the market in those countries south of our border, where the winter soft fruits are grown and then shipped here.

Wouldn't it be great if we held other countries that shipped their products here to the same standards that we hold for our own industries?

It's a sad commentary when we must monitor those very government agencies that are put into place to protect our health and best interests. I believe in the need for governmental regulatory agencies, but whey can't people realize that regulating the safety of what we eat is in EVERYBODY's best interests. That's a no-brainer!!!!!!!!!!!!

We the People have got to find a way to protect our selves from the EPA,FDA & USDA. These 3 agencies continue to Spray flowers,fruits & Vegetables with toxic chemicals along with lacing everything else with Antibiotics an other drugs.These 3 agencies are causing more harm than good for all living things.Why do think so many Americans are taking more prescriptions drugs now than any other year.


You would be suprised how many local farmers are holistic.

Respectfully, Danielle

I agree and belong to a CSA
However MOST of Americans food comes from factory monoculture farms.

Wonderful! Now the famillies of the students that I teach won't have to work in that poison. I bet they take the air monitoring machine down soon from Ohlone Elementary School in Watsonville,CA where I teach. I teach elementary school science to 5th graders there.

Laura Shaw

This is good news. Whenever I'm at the grocery store and see people buying conventionally grown strawberries I think about how toxic they are.

So very glad to hear you are using the USDA! I was thinking about how the people of the US could perhaps have a class action suit on that issue since it affects everyone so much. Good luck!!

I'm wondering about all the toxic chemicals applied to grass on golf-courses, public parks, etc. Are we looking out for those workers too?

Great news !

Congrats, but I'm not sharing anything with a handsome leader's face plastered on it.



Hello Garrett.

Beauty is from nature. Look at Mike DeGruy and his Producer, Andrew. With the drilling expected in the Arctic, these are two experts I would want in my corner.




The sweet taste of victory can turn into a bitter one if removing toxic products from the national market boosts its use in other countries, especially if manufacturers find out international trade to be more profitable. I think the real victory is banning the production of toxics and require that only low-toxic products can be used, exported and imported.

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