Chemical Strawberries

Strawberries are fixtures on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of the twelve produce items with the highest amounts of pesticide residue. According to the 2015 report, samples of conventionally-grown strawberries showed residues of thirteen separate pesticides.

But if the prospect of eating 13 varieties of pesticides isn’t enough to convince you to avoid chem-ag strawberries, consider this:

Not only do conventional strawberries contain high levels of pesticide residue (they appear on both a recent list from the Consumers Reports, and the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list), but their production also requires chemicals that don’t directly impact consumers, such as methyl bromide, a “multisystem toxicant” used to fumigate the soil before the fruit is planted. Once the soil is treated, farmers often then apply a whole list of chemicals, including Chloropicrin and Malathion.

Roman Pinal, the Southern California regional director for the United Farm Workers (UFW), says strawberry pickers are more susceptible to pesticide exposure than the average farmworker because the fields are more densely planted than other crops, meaning chemicals are being sprayed or are drifting closer to farmworkers.

What’s more, compared to crops that are harvested once a season, strawberry plants produce fruit every two days—creating a situation where chemical management and harvesting occur “right on top” of each other, he says.

And yet, little has been done at the policy level to protect strawberry workers from these chemicals. For instance, almost all California strawberry farms are exempt from an international treaty banning methyl bromide because of its role in depleting the stratospheric ozone layer.

While the use of methyl bromide is set to end everywhere by 2017, it will likely be replaced by an equally toxic alternative on many farms. And the Environmental Protection Agency has yet to rule on its proposed protection standards for farmworkers and pesticide handlers.

Meanwhile, Glorietta and her fellow farmworkers often feel they can’t leave a job that is making them sick in the short term and increasing the likelihood that they will suffer from cancers and other illnesses down the road. Jesús Lopez, a community worker with California Rural Legal Assistance, a nonprofit legal firm that has been taking negligent farms to court for decades, says he hears from many farmworkers in Glorietta’s situation on a regular basis. They almost always show noticeable symptoms of pesticide exposure, he says, but would rather endure untenable conditions than risk their jobs.

“Everybody is afraid to speak up,” he says. “Some people don’t have documents. Other people don’t have enough money to pay rent. Others live near the farm and don’t want to move. Maybe the school that their kids go to is nearby.”

So when we buy strawberries that weren’t grown organically, we not only risk poisoning ourselves, but we contribute to the profits of companies that are poisoning their workers.

The article from which the excerpt was taken can be seen HERE.

The Environmental Working Group “Dirty Dozen” can be seen HERE.