Anxiety over methyl iodide usage » Ventura County Star

Anxiety over methyl iodide usage

Recently, a number of respected newspapers have put forth the opinion that the soil fumigant methyl iodide, which has received a registration from the Department of Pesticide Regulation as a restricted material in California, may be “legal, but not worth it.”

These opinions and articles questioned why such a “toxic” material would be approved for use in spite of objections raised by a group of 52 scientists, as well as some in the environmental and anti-pesticide community.

With such an emotional issue, it is vitally important that the public understand the rationale behind such a decision and why DPR took approximately three years before coming to a conclusion.

First, in regard to the question of why do we have soil fumigants at all, we need look no further than a University of California, Davis analysis requested by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which stated that without fumigants the negative economic impact in this state would be approximately $1.58 billion, accompanied by the loss of over 23,000 jobs.

Fumigants are a vital tool to rid the soil of pathogens and disease that rob yields. Without them, most consumers would not be able to buy food at affordable levels. And while every grower I know would love to be sustainable growing food without chemical inputs, the reality is that most consumers demand price levels that are not compatible with organic production.

Second, as to why methyl iodide, the answer is understandable when looking at the requirements of the Montreal Protocol, which is phasing out methyl bromide due to its ozone depleting characteristics.

Methyl iodide does not harm the Earth’s ozone layer. In addition, methyl iodide is already registered in 47 other states and has been used to treat more than 17,000 acres of farmland without incident. The product is also registered and used in a number of other countries.

These same growers compete against California farmers for market share and without a level playing field producers here are put at an extreme disadvantage that will eventually lead to outsourcing our food production not only out of state but out of country as well.

Third, why register this product if it is so toxic? DPR Director Mary Ann Warmerdam stated: “Methyl iodide is the most evaluated pesticide in the department’s history. Methyl iodide can be used safely under our tough restrictions by only highly trained applicators at times, places and specific conditions approved by the county agricultural commissioners.”

The reality is that California’s restrictions on methyl iodide are many more times greater than those required by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or any other jurisdiction. The use restrictions include large buffer zones, a requirement of only DPR-approved highly retentive tarps, specific ground water protections, reduced application rates and stronger worker protection measures.

And in spite of all of these requirements, which go far beyond other states and countries, anti-pesticide activists are calling upon the new administration in Sacramento to reverse the decision to use methyl iodide in California.

Is methyl iodide a product to be handled with extreme care? Absolutely, but it can be used safely. DPR along with farmers, as stewards of their land and the environment, certainly realize that fact. In order to continue to produce food from our state, growers need to have access to crop production tools based upon rational and reasonable science.

If we allow the process to become a prisoner of emotion, we will not only find ourselves without methyl iodide but, in the not too distant future, the majority of our food production will come from places with much less regulatory oversight.

— Barry J. Bedwell is president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League, a Fresno-based voluntary, nonprofit agricultural trade association.

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