Farmers And Environmentalists Fighting Off Toxic Pesticide From California Fields

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Environmentalists and labor groups have joined forces to stop a new cancer-causing pesticide from being used in crops across California. The pesticide, commonly known as “MIDAS Soil Fumigant,” uses methyl iodide as its key ingredient. Methyl iodide is extremely great at killing bugs, but also at killing animals and humans — causing cancer and harm to the nervous system to those exposed to it for long periods of time: migrant farm workers and their families.

The fight to stop methyl iodide hasn’t been easy since the chemical company that produces MIDAS is Arysta LifeScience — a member of a PAC group that supports GOP candidates and Blue Dog Democrats (The Chemical Producers and Distributors Association). Under the Bush-era administration, Arysta LifeScience got its carcinogenic pesticide approved by the EPA even after five prominent scientists warned the administration of the poisonous nature of methyl iodide.

Shortly after EPA approval, the pesticide entered the U.S. market as an alternative to a pesticide that contained an ozone-depleting substance: methyl bromide. Methyl bromide has been banned for its harmful effects on the environment and already 47 states have switched to MIDAS.

The United Farm Workers has been at the forefront of the fight to stop the new pesticide. The UFW, which was co-founded by the legendary union leader Cesar Chavez who organized the boycott of California grapes back in the 1970’s to protest the unjust working conditions and treatment of migrant workers — now has mobilized to get the EPA to re-evaluate the toxic chemical.

Last week the UFW heard back from the EPA and got some good news: the EPA is willing to re-consider the pesticide’s future in California but only after it sees the results of an independent scientific review panel. It’s unclear when the results will be completed, but the union is trying to get the public to write letters to the EPA thanking them for being willing to re-evaluate the pesticide.

The UFW has partnered up with the Pesticide Action Network, the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, the Californians for Pesticide Reform, Pesticide Watch, Lideres Campesinas, and the Natural Resources Defense Council to get methyl iodide off California fields.

Arysta LifeScience maintains the pesticide is safe to use. This is a snippet is from a Capital Press article published on Saturday:

Husein Ajwa, an extension researcher with the University of California-Davis who has researched methyl iodide for the past decade, argues that the chemical is safe when used properly, and more efficient than methyl bromide.

Without it, producers would require several different pesticides to disinfest soil, Ajwa said.
“Without iodomethane we will have to keep using other fumigants at high rates,” he said. “I’ve worked with all fumigants. It’s one of the safest materials I’ve worked with.”

The article, however, failed to mention that Mr. Husein Ajwa’s work has been funded by Arysta LifeScience. Ajwa is part of the company’s research team, which received an award by the EPA earlier this year (the 2009 Stratospheric Ozone Protection Awards). Obviously the award is not deserved. Nevertheless, the company has connections with “experts” at other universities: Joe Noling, University of Florida Citrus Research and Education Center; Greg Browne, UC-Davis Dept of Plan Pathology and others. If they say methyl iodide is safe, now you know who they work for.

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