Thursday, July 7, 2011
Baby rabbits may be an unlikely flashpoint for activist campaigns, but the irresistibly cute creatures – and the damage the fumigant methyl iodide can do to them – are helping mobilize dozens of organizations calling for California to ban the controversial agricultural chemical.And Planned Parenthood is an unlikely partner in a campaign to ban a pesticide, but Pajaro Valley Health Action Team, a project of Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, sent its first-ever environmental action alert last week urging members to call Gov. Jerry Brown to ban methyl iodide in the state. “The shift from reproductive to environmental health is a big one, but environmental issues are a reproductive health concern,” says Traci Townsend, project manager for the Health Action Team. “I would rather not expose an embryo [to methyl iodide].”
The 140-page “risk characterization” document the California Department of Pesticide Regulation considered when registering the fumigant late last year goes into the grisly details of exposure in rabbits, based on studies conducted by methyl iodide manufacturer Arysta LifeScience. Rabbit fetuses concentrate iodide nine times greater than their mothers, a fact reproductive health advocates have observed with interest.
At least 100 Planned Parenthood supporters called the governor last week, along with 1,000 others as part of a statewide call-in campaign led by a coalition of organizations from Sacramento to D.C. Meanwhile, Salinas organizers are strategizing around a door-to-door campaign and gathering labor union support before asking the County Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution urging a ban.
Activists have also picketed the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner, who granted the first two application permits in the state. On June 15, fumigators finished applying the chemical to a 2.6-acre pepper field, two days after a tractor malfunction stopped them. “It happens all the time when you’re dealing with equipment,” says Les Wright, chief deputy agricultural commissioner for Fresno County.
Wright says picketers were misguided in targeting his office. “The group that picketed had a misunderstanding about our role,” he says. “They wanted us to stop all applications. That’s not our job. Our job is to follow the rules set by U.S. EPA and California DPR.”
At press time, there still had been no requests made to the Monterey County Agriculture Commissioner’s Office for permits to apply methyl iodide.
The North Carolina-based Arysta, which registered methyl iodide under the trademark MIDAS, did not respond to requests for comment by the Weekly’s deadline.