Ethel Merman may have sang, "There's no business like show business," but when it comes to strawberries, a toxic chemical named methyl bromide would probably sing, "There's no business like grow business." That's because industrial strawberry growers, as well as growers of more than 100 crops on industrial farms, depend on this toxic chemical to control insects, nematodes, weeds, and pathogens. Strawberry and tomato fields are regularly fumigated with methyl bromide before the crops are planted.
The shocking part? Methyl bromide should have been gone by now. Under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the EPA was directed to implement aspects of the Montreal Protocol, a treaty to phase out chemicals that destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer. As a result, production of methyl bromide was supposed to end January 1, 2005 except for "critical uses" for which there are no safer alternatives.
Additionally, according to the National Cancer Institute:
The latest report from the AHS evaluated the role of 45 pesticides and found that only a few of them showed evidence of a possible association with prostate cancer among pesticide applicators. Methyl bromide was linked to the risk of prostate cancer in the entire group, while exposure to six other pesticides was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer only among men with a family history of the disease.
The good news? Methyl bromide use has definately dropped, with ongoing signs of declining use.
The bad news? Those big, fat strawberries you see in the supermarket for that wonderful price of 2 packages for $5 were probably bathing in the stuff.
The alternative? I know, I know; organic strawberries are hard to find. They're small. They're irregularly shaped. And they spoil quickly. But the flavor is like nothing else, and the health benefits to our bodies and planet are hard for me to ignore. And when my family polished off the strawberries (pictured above) we received in our first CSA delivery of the year yesterday from Riverview Farms, I knew I could feel good about it.
By the way, the Environmental Working Group's pesticide score for strawberries (the scale goes from 1-100, with 100 being the worst)is 82. It is #6 on the "Dirty Dozen" list (see the list here ). Food for thought.