Pesticides are the food industry’s most lucrative tool, raising profits to amounts that would otherwise be impossible with monoculture. While the agriculture industry is producing more food than ever before, the increased yields also contain record-breaking levels of chemicals, making food more unsafe compared to earlier times.
Berries, one of the most beneficial foods for fighting off free radicals in the body, are sprayed with substantially more pesticides than other produce. Strawberries, in particular, are treated with extremely dangerous types of chemical called fumigants, gasses that are blasted into the soil, killing pests and weeds prior to planting.
Increase in strawberry yields and ozone depletion result from fumigant use in fields
Even when used correctly, fumigants float into the air uncontrollably, affecting nearby workers and residents, causing cancer, developmental problems and ozone depletion.
Agricultural fumigants were discovered after World War I when the pineapple industry in Hawaii began experimenting with leftover stocks of chloropicrin, a chemical used to make the enemy vomit, causing them to rip off their gas masks and expose themselves to other harmful gases, according to an investigative series called The Dark Side of the Strawberry by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
When pineapple growers pumped chloropicrin into the ground prior to planting, their yields increased dramatically. One acre treated with chloropicrin produced 20 more tons of pineapples than acres that were left untreated. As expected, farmers began using chloropicrin on other crops including strawberry fields in the 1950s, allowing production to spike unnaturally. Fumigants have allowed Americans to consume four times more strawberries than they did in the 1970s.
Fumigants used on strawberries float into the air, sickening workers and depleting Earth’s ozone
Long-term studies on the health effects caused by fumigants are far and few between; however, scientists do know that this particular class of chemicals is extremely harmful to the environment. An international treaty called the Montreal Protocol banned one of the most popular fumigants (methyl bromide) in the 1990s, alleging that it was causing ozone depletion.
The assessment, which included opinions from 200 of the world’s best atmospheric scientists, concluded that methyl bromide was 50 times more damaging to the stratospheric ozone layer than chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The treaty called for developed nations to stop using the chemical by 2005.
A 2013 study by UC Berkeley found a connection between people living near fields where methyl bromide is applied and giving birth to underweight babies with shorter and smaller heads. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies methyl bromide as a Category I acute toxin, meaning it’s one of the most potent toxicants, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). An estimated 18 people have died since 1985 from methyl bromide exposure.
While strawberries take up less than 1 percent of the state’s farmland, 8 percent of Californian’s pesticides are used on the fruit
Strawberries are primarily grown in California, flourishing in the coastline’s endless spring-like climate. Unfortunately, people love California too, with many schools and neighborhoods surrounded by strawberry fields.
The phase-out of methyl bromide has resulted in farmers turning to 1,3-dichloropropene, California’s third most heavily used pesticide. Owned by Dow, 1,3-D is likely carcinogenic and has been linked to other health problems.
After learning about how long 1,3-D lingers in the air, the fumigant was yanked from the market in 1990, but it returned 12 years later after Dow presented five years of industry research to state officials claiming that there were no dangers associated with the chemical.