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California Democrats want one-year delay in registering controversial fumigant, methyl iodide

by Chris Hinyub, published

The joint Senate Assembly committee tasked with budgeting the current fiscal year is seeking to delay approval of a controversial fumigant for use on California strawberry fields. 

Coastal agribusinesses are desperately searching for a new product to manage conventional farm pests since their old standby, methyl bromide, has been phased out by the federal government. Opponents argue (and a scientific review strongly demonstrated) that methyl iodide – the state's answer to its ozone-depleting counterpart – is highly toxic to humans. 

Legislative Democrats are demanding that the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) suspend registration for one year while a new independent study of methyl iodide goes forward. The DPR would also have to submit a report to the Legislature justifying any disagreements with the proposed review.  Although the department gave its preliminary approval of the fumigant in April, they are hearing public opinion before officially registering the product. 

Ignoring the significant farm worker and public-health risks a scientific review panel associated with methyl iodide, the pesticide department has moved forward with registration. Pesticide regulation director, Mary-Ann Warmerdam attempted to justify the agency's actions in a hearing held on the issue last month by claiming application safeguards instituted by her department are stricter than federal mandates. Some members of the scientific panel expressed “horror” and “disgust” that the health protections do not and cannot go far enough. 

Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, who led that hearing said, "If is not willing to listen to its own scientific panel that it convened, then I think it is appropriate for the Legislature to step in and ask for a timeout on its use." 

California classifies methyl iodide as a carcinogen. It has been shown to cause neurological damage, fetal death and thyroid cancer in laboratory animals. The long-term health impact on humans has not been studied enough, say scientists. 

Senate and Assembly Republicans voted no on the proposal to forestall registration of methyl iodide saying this was not a matter for a budget committee to decide. The full legislature and the governor's office still have to approve the measure, but the likelihood of this is doubtful. 

"The governor appreciates the Legislature's input on this important issue and urges them to work with the department on policy instead of trying to usurp the normal process," said executive spokewoman Rachel Arrezola.  Its an interesting state of affairs when the “normal process” lets executive fiat (instead of legislative mandate) arbitrate such a far-reaching matter.

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