Now that methyl iodide has been pulled, what’s next for California growers?
Thursday, May 3, 2012
The recent announcement by Arysta LifeScience, the manufacturer of the soil fumigant methyl iodide, of its product withdrawal from the California and U.S. markets represents a significant development in the campaign to protect workers, rural residents and the environment from the pesticide’s potentially adverse effects.
While Arysta stated that its decision to withdraw methyl iodide was based on economic factors, it’s clear there were myriad issues that led to its decision. The soil fumigant intended for use in strawberry production would have been a costly tool for agriculture. In addition to the high cost of purchase and application, potential liability related to an accident during application or use had to be an important consideration. In California, legal challenges to abuses in the registration process of methyl iodide also promised further costs, as well as the uncertainty caused by protracted litigation.
Methyl iodide was developed as a soil fumigant alternative to methyl bromide, another highly toxic pesticide being phased out under the Montreal Protocols, an international treaty agreement supported by the U.S. government. While the ozone-depleting capacity of methyl bromide led to its phase-out, methyl iodide, while not ozone-depleting, presented even greater health and environmental risks.
As a leader in the effort to ensure that the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) relied on science-based data in its registration review of methyl iodide, I worked with many scientists, public health experts and agriculturists who reached a common conclusion that the risks associated with the use of methyl iodide far outweighed the benefits.
Throughout methyl iodide’s registration process in California, I affirmed my support for agriculture and focused my attention on the need for integrity in the review of the science that established methyl iodide as a neurotoxin, teratogen (birth defect causing), mutagen (mutation causing), and water contaminant.
In the early part of last year, I convened meetings with representatives from the California Strawberry Commission, the Western Growers Association, government agencies, agricultural investors, and conventional and organic growers that have developed into an ongoing working group to explore innovative ways to support reducing growers’ dependency on pesticides, as well as to develop incentives for growers to find new crop management practices. Additionally, representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the California Environmental Protection Agency have joined the working group and Governor Brown enhanced the effort by committing funds for the development of alternative soil management methods and technologies.
For decades, California ag has based its success on innovation and adaptation. In the short term, the decision of Arysta to withdraw methyl iodide from the market creates a challenge. Finding a solution is critical. I look forward to finding economically viable solutions and I am encouraged by the commitment demonstrated by all of the participating stakeholders.
While the debate surrounding the registration of methyl iodide generated controversy, it also served to elevate awareness about the importance of science-based decision-making. Ultimately, I believe some important lessons have been learned that will inform future registration decisions and create the impetus for research and development of alternatives. I am confident California can turn this challenge into an opportunity to lead the nation and the world in creating new, safe and viable alternatives while maintaining human and environmental health as a priority.
Assemblyman Bill Monning represents 27th Assembly District.