How Organic Are Your Strawberries?

Farmers call on tighter rules to prevent toxic fumigants from being used even on ‘organic’ strawberries.
Are these gorgeous organic strawberries really as chemical-free as you think? (Photo: Getty Images).
Sep 28, 2011
Exec. Prod. of Franchises & Series. He previously reported for HuffPost, L.A. Daily Journal, and Biloxi Sun-Herald.

Turns out, those gorgeous organic strawberries you picked up at the store or the farmer’s market are hiding a dirty little secret.

They may have been grown on an organic farm that eschews the use of toxic chemicals, but they probably started life as a nursery plant treated with chemicals like methyl iodide. 

How’s that? Let’s allow The New York Times to explain:

National regulations require that organic produce be grown for three years without synthetic pesticides. Strawberries in California are grown over a five-year cycle, often starting as nursery plants in the fields of Southern California before being transplanted to the sandy soils of Northern California.

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.

California, the paper points out, doesn’t have a single organic nursery.

A small group of growers has joined with the Pesticide Action Network to call on the Feds to tighten the rules governing pesticide use at nurseries to “spur innovation” and encourage nurseries and farmers to embrace new green techniques:

The practice of sterilizing the soil with fumigant pesticides, which are injected into the ground as gas, poses some of the most serious threats to farmers, farmworkers and rural communities. Chemical fumigants have been responsible for numerous mass poisoning incidents, are extraordinarily difficult to control in the field, and are among the most highly toxic pesticides that remain on the market. New tools like mustard seed meal in combination with anaerobic soil disinfestation would replace fumigants like methyl bromide, chloropicrin, and Telone, among others.

But the group faces reluctance from some of their fellow organic farmers, who think organic starter plants are too big a risk. One grower told the Times, “You bring sick plants from the nursery, I mean, you might as well keep your money in the bank.”

Organic berries can still be considered chemical-free, since the fruit itself was grown using organic practices. But the PAN and its backers argue that consumers who are increasingly concerned about how their food was produced have a right to know about the entire growing process. 

Get the full story over at the Times, and to learn more about the fight to tighten rules governing pesticides—and to take action—visit the Pesticide Action Network

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