If you buy organic produce thinking you're bypassing the chemical-heavy industrial food system, think again. "Organic" strawberries that overflow from baskets at major groceries and local farmers' markets are not nearly as organic as they claim. Federal regulations that allow millions of pounds of toxic chemicals to be used to grow plants that eventually produce strawberries are being labeled as organic.
A letter sent by the Pesticide Action Network
to the United States Department of Agriculture stated that "Seeds and plant stock widely used in organic agriculture are grown with prohibited materials that violate existing regulations and that jeopardize the credibility of the organic label." It added that officials with the National Organic Program at the department “must act with some urgency” to support production of a berry that is sustainable from start to finish.
Berries--including blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries--present a unique challenge to growers of organic crops. They all go through at least one rotation as non-fruiting nursery plants, and during that stage are fumigated with chemicals including methyl bromide, a soil sterilizer and pesticide.
California pumps out crates of the berries by the millions, shipping them across the country and internationally with the largest exports going to Canada. It also produces the majority of the world's strawberry nursery plants.What it lacks is a single organic nursery.
California says its strawberries are find and never mind the five Nobel-winning chemists and dozens of other experts who've written a letter begging the EPA to keep this poison out of strawberry fields, forever. 25% of the state's strawberries still contain detectable concentrations of organophosphates which are a primary contributor to ADHD in children.
In particular, the proliferation of methyl iodide is a cause for concern. It's so toxic that even some chemists won't go near it. It's also such a powerful and reliable carcinogen that researchers use it to induce cancer in lab animals.
A statement by 54 independent scientists said:
"We are concerned that pregnant women and the unborn fetus, children, the elderly, farm workers and other people living near application sites would be at serious risk" from fumigated fields, the group said in a letter to [EPA Administrator Stevern] Johnson. They described the newer fumigant as "one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing." (Mercury News)
This toxic monster has been linked to thyroid tumors, nerve damage, and brain and lung problems. It's also been known to cause miscarriages in lab animals -- when it's not being used to give them cancer.
The problem with methyl iodide, chemists say, is after application it evaporates from the soil and exposes farm workers and neighborhoods nearby. They believe that once airborne, it could cause thyroid cancer and neurological damage just like direct exposure in lab experiment.
Before they begin bearing fruit, virtually all plants -- whether they will go on to produce conventional berries or organic ones -- are treated with fumigants and other synthetic pesticides.
The National Organic Program is in the process of reviewing its standards for seeds and planting stock. The standards have not been updated since they were created in 2002, and they allow conventional stock to be used wherever organic stock is not “commercially available.”
Indeed, for many organic strawberry growers, using organic stock amounts to taking a big financial risk with little chance of reward. This has to change if the global produce supply is ever to be cleaned up from toxic chemicals.
More than a million pounds of methyl bromide was applied to strawberry nursery fields around the world in 2011, according to Environmental Protection Agency reports. Despite a worldwide phase-out, the fumigant continues to be used on crops in the United States including peppers and tomatoes, to prevent a “significant market disruption.” (The Pesticide Action Network is worried that methyl bromide will ultimately be replaced with methyl iodide, which is toxic, too.)