Strawberry plant

Organic California strawberries are grown with prohibited chemicals violating organic regulations, claims the San Francisco based Pesticide Action Network and several area growers in a recent letter to the USDA.

Federal regulations allow the use of methyl bromide on strawberries – a harmful toxin and environmental pollutant – that will later be certified as organic because of the nature of berry crops, which all go through one or more rotations as a non-fruiting plant. Chemical soil sterilizers are used during that season before the plants become organic-fruit bearers, according to the complaint.

One of the crops most susceptible to pest infestations, strawberries were among those sprayed with more than one million pounds of methyl bromide used worldwide in 2011, according to the EPA. And organizations like the Pesticide Action Network are concerned that it could be replaced with methyl iodine, an even more toxic chemical already applied to conventional California strawberries after President Bush approved its use in 2007.

Typically, berry plants (including blackberries, blueberries and raspberries) start out in nurseries before heading to farms. And currently there is not one organic berry nursery in all of California, allowing for the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides before designating a plant as organic.

The gap in regulations that allows the berries to be treated with chemicals comes via the National Organic Program standards, which have not been updated since their creation in 2002. The current rules allow conventional plants to be used to start organic crops when organic versions are not available. Organic advocates are urging for updated regulations that would require the use of organic plant stock in any organic certified product.

But, some skeptics don’t support the move to requiring organic plant stock. They say that a large number of organic farmers don’t want organic plants from nurseries, according to an article in the Bay Citizen, because many farmers have found  that the organic seedlings aren’t as healthy as the conventional stock.

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Image: jronaldlee