Pesticides, why?


My mother-in-law steered me to this outrageous story: California is now allowing its strawberry growers to use an all-purpose fumigant on their crops that is linked to cancer and thyroid disease–something so poisonous, it is injected into the soil only by specialists and treated areas have to be covered by impermeable tarps.  (Presumably the treated areas are not covered so long that the plants die.)

I'm sorry.  I grow strawberries.  If in order to grow them, you need to use a chemical that five Nobel laureates pleaded with the Bush administration to ban, there is something wrong with the way you are growing your strawberries.

Meanwhile, over on the rational front, where you don't poison the village in order to sell it milkshakes, insect ecologist David Crowder has found that organic potato fields offer BETTER pest control than convestional fields, as well as larger, healthier, plants.  In organic fields, there is a better balance of predators keeping the Colorado potato beetle in check.


  1. I find this story terrifying. Fortunately I only buy strawberries in season at a local farm. All they use is straw on their plants. What is this poison supposed to do in California?

  2. I don’t think I’ll be buying any strawberries from California anymore. Maybe if enough people boycott their strawberries, they’ll change their minds.

  3. Wow – even though I usually only get local berries in season, I do make a cobbler that needs strawberries, and that usually means California berries. Since I already have thyroid disease, I sure don’t need to complicate it. Thanks for the info, Michele!

  4. The primary reason to use a soil fumigant in a strawberry field is to reduce the population of certain fungi (that can wipe out an entire field of strawberries) that survive in the soil and for which there is no other cure/preventative. The fumigant is only used BEFORE the strawberries are planted, with a certain waiting period after use before planting.

    The only other option for dealing with these fungal problems is a very long rotation (5-7 years not planted to strawberries or other susceptible plants), combined with other management practices. The long rotation starts resulting in economic and sustainability issues for the farmer and higher prices for the consumer.

    I’m not saying that this situation is right, good, or environmentally sound. But it is the reality AND the cost of having strawberries available in the grocery store year round. Strawberry growers in your local area that are growing strawberries seasonally can usually be more diversified in their farms, allowing the long rotations to be cost and management effective.

  5. Rebecca M, I live in upstate New York. I don’t want California strawberries in the winter, or in June. Compared to the ‘Honeoyes’ I grow, they can hardly even be called strawberries. They taste like nothing–a texture without a flavor.

    The product is meaningless. So using powerful poisons to produce it just piles crazy on top of crazy.

  6. If eating strawberries out of season means using carcinogenic pesticides to grow them, we should all reconsider the reason we buy this white, tasteless berry. Perhaps it is indeed time to return to eating strawberries only when they are harvested locally.

  7. Methyl iodide has been approved as a stopgap measure so that the very important CA strawberry industry isn’t completely destroyed while farmers and scientists scramble for a replacement for the (now banned) methyl bromide. It has nothing to do with the strawberries being “in season” and if you think the strawberries flown up from Chili are chemical-free, well…

    I don’t understand how it’s news that fruits and vegetables are sprayed with chemicals that, unless used appropriately, can be very dangerous. All ag pesticides have undergone extensive testing and are heavily regulated regarding which crops they can be applied to, when, under what conditions, and by who. At times getting yourself certified to apply pesticides has been considered a very in demand and lucrative profession. The public does a good job pushing the government to continually raise the safety bar for these chemicals but nothing is ever going to be 100% safe, no matter what feel-good label (e.g. “organic”) is placed on it.

  8. I wrote a story once on the 60-something chemicals used to grow a strawberry crop and never got so much hate mail as I did from the strawberry association and various growers.

    Not sure if their site is still up, but they used to have this advice for farmers: spray at night so you don’t scare off the customers at your friendly corner farm stand.

    Grow your own.

  9. Florida already uses methyl iodide on their strawberries and it’s showing to contaminate groundwater.

    The safest bet is to either grow your own or buy organic. The implications here aren’t just for your own health but also the health of those that live in proximity to the fields.

    The Department of Pesticide Regulation in California has set the allowable exposure rates to be 120 times MORE than what their own scientists recommend.

    If organic growers can find a way around using this stuff, I’m sure conventional growers can too.

  10. This isn’t so much about me, or you, and what we choose to buy or not buy. It is about hundreds of thousands of youngsters who want a strawberry milkshake every time mom goes through a fast food window.

  11. Let this be a reminder to myself to stick with the homegrown or seasonal organic strawberries. I am willing to pay more. And my son is not allowed to get a milkshake every time we drive through a fast food window.

  12. For long-term residual effects of pesticides from peach orchards in the Sandhills NC area, see
    I remember my grandmother making us peel the peaches before we ate them, because of the pesticides. Also remember how good those white Jeffersons and yellow Albertas were. Parkinsons among my aunts and uncles is blamed by some on pesticide exposure; others say genetics. It’s not only what we eat but what the workers and growers gamble on that chills me.

  13. It’s rare for strawberries to be out of season here in CA, except during deepest winter. Well, I already try to buy organic anyway, but will make more of a point to do so with strawberries. But how long (if ever) after this pesticide has been applied can that soil once again be termed ‘organic’ ?

  14. All the more reason to buy and enjoy strawberries locally and in season. But I sure hope the frozen blueberries and raspberries I buy in the off season are ok.

  15. I’m pretty sure they are talking about putting down this fumagant on bare soil.

    I worked a public garden that literally hired a crew to come in with a steam machine and they would cover the beds (for tulips) with a big canvas tarp and pump super hot steam into the soil because the fungus couldn’t survive above 212 degrees. They had to do it every year so it wasn’t a fool perfect method, but I’m guessing this chemical isn’t a one time cure-all either.

    Just saying there are other options than chemicals.

  16. This is awful. I have noticed when I buy produce from the market that I have a small reaction when I eat them. I do not know what they are putting on the produce to grow them but when I eat my own grown food, I do not have any kind of reaction because I use only organic materials. I hope this will not be able to continue and it is nice to have someone out there looking out for others greater good. Keep up the good fight.

  17. I grow strawberries, and they are supremely easy for me. I don’t understand why they must poison us. Again, buy local, in seasons from people you know. Or, in the alternative, grow them yourself.~~Dee

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