Controversial strawberry pesticide pulled from US

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A pesticide used primarily in the strawberry industry is being pulled from the U.S. market by its Japanese manufacturer, a surprising move that comes after harsh criticism from environmentalists and farmworkers who claim the chemical is toxic and may cause cancer.

Tokyo-based Arysta LifeScience Inc. said late Tuesday that it was immediately suspending the sales, marketing and production of all formulations of the fumigant Midas, or methyl iodide, in the U.S.

The company said the decision was based on the product’s economic viability in the United States.

Since it was approved in 2007 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, methyl iodide has seen little use across the nation. California’s $2 billion strawberry industry, which produces more than 90 percent of the nation’s strawberries, has shunned its use, in part because it carried severe restrictions on use near schools and residential areas.

Methyl iodide had been widely seen as a replacement for another fumigant, methyl bromide, which is being phased out under international treaty because it depletes the Earth’s ozone. Some growers are currently using up their supplies of methyl bromide, while others have switched to fumigants such as chloropicrin and metam sodium as alternatives.

Methyl iodide, which is injected into soil, kills bugs, weeds and plant diseases. It was also used by some growers of tomatoes, peppers and other crops.

California regulators approved its use in December 2010 despite opposition from a wide range of scientists, environmental and farmworker groups.

Those scientists concluded that use of the fumigant would result in acute public health risks because tests on rats and rabbits have shown that exposure to the chemical causes thyroid cancer, miscarriages and damage to the nervous system. Scientists also found it can pollute air and water.

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