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Strawberry Picking Poisons

June 14, 2012

Two important disclaimers right off the top.

1) I know next to nothing about farming or pesticides.
2) The government says all this stuff is perfectly safe.

I go away for a few days and the story I’ve been sitting on for most of the last year gets scooped up by a commenter on All Over Albany. That would be KM when she started asking about pesticide use in the local strawberry crops.

Coming back from the Northern California farmers markets where strawberries are in full swing right now was amazing. There are so many organic producers out there it’s amazing, and a giant flat of these super ripe, sweet, and deeply red berries was only $14. They were the best strawberries that I’ve had in some time.

But it’s strawberry picking time here too. And families will head into local farms for the annual June rite of picking their own berries. Now, I don’t know the pesticide practices of every farm in the region. What I do have is some aggregate information on conventionally raised strawberries and the pesticide residues they have been found to contain.

Fair warning: it’s a little alarming. But at least there is an upside.

Here is the scary version. According to What’s on my food?, which is brought to us by our friends at the Pesticide Action Network, strawberries are a mess.

Apparently the USDA pesticide data program has found 54 unique pesticide residues on the fruit. The site goes on to make the claim that 9 of these are known or probable carcinogens, 24 are suspected hormone disruptors, 11 are neurotoxins, 12 are developmental or reproductive toxins, and 19 are honeybee toxins.

But that’s a bit disingenuous. Because not all of these are found on all the samples.

So let’s look for a minute at the most toxic pesticides that were found on the most samples of conventionally produced domestic strawberries.

Like Captan, for example, which they say is a known carcinogen (I didn’t know that until just right now) and was found on 57% of samples. None was found on their domestically produced organic counterparts.

Or Myclobutanil, which was found in 33.6% of domestic conventionally produced strawberries. Again, the domestic organic crops had no traces of this chemical that PAN classifies under Developmental/Reproductive Toxins.

25% of domestic conventionally produced strawberries had traces of Malathion. None of the organic strawberries did. And this is a fun one, because in addition to being a neurotoxin it’s also highly toxic to bees. Killing bees is bad.

I could go on, and on, and on. But you all are smart. I think you get the point.

Now lest you think that What’s on my food? is just totally rigged and full of nothing but scary facts about how bad conventionally produced foods are for you, your children, and your unborn children, consider this.

Remember our recent conversation about pineapples? Well, at their worst, imported conventionally produced pineapples were found to only have 6 pesticide residues. The most common one was found in only 6.8% of samples. And the heaviest concentration was 4.2 micrograms per 100 grams of fruit.

And canned kidney beans had no pesticide residues at all.

Strawberries are amazing. You should eat them. They are the epitome of early summer fruit and a ripe strawberry is one of life’s great pleasures. And now is the time to eat them, when they are in season and actually taste like strawberries. You know, opposed to those hard things with white cores you’ll find in grocery stores all year long that try to pass as real strawberries.

But conventionally produced strawberries give me great pause. Even when they are local and in season.

Here’s the upside.

KM mentioned this in her comment on All Over Albany, and I had found this place online after last year’s strawberry season had already come to a close. But we do have a pick-your-own organic strawberry farm in the region. Its name is Thompson-Finch and it’s located a bit beyond Hudson, just 68 minutes from Albany. My sincere hope is to get there this year and see what it’s all about.

Perhaps there are organic strawberries that are closer to home. Or perhaps there are some local farms that manage their strawberry crops with low loads of non-fumigant pesticides. Perhaps there are some places that raise strawberries and engage in organic practices, but don’t have the time or the money to become certified.

THESE ARE ALL IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR LOCAL FARM.

I’m not an organic ideologue. I support the purchase and consumption of some conventionally grown crops. Onions, pineapples, and kidney beans are just a few of them. The wide and persistent use of pesticides on strawberries on the other hand is something I find disturbing. Despite how delicious locally grown in-season strawberries may be, this is something you should absolutely consider before you eat them. And you may want to think about this before you walk into a field where fumigant pesticides have been widely applied.

Maybe if more people call asking questions, more farms will reconsider their pesticide use. Let’s hope. In the meantime, maybe I’ll see you down in Ancram.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2012 1:30 pm

    It is scary what’s out there. Just because we pick the berries ourselves doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any better/safer. I just posted this resource for u-pick strawberries; I’m continuously updating it, but it seems there might be a few more places in the area that use organic/no-spray practices (Conbeer’s in Fonda, Charlton Fruit Farm…).

    • June 14, 2012 3:23 pm

      Wowzers, you’ve taken me back. Summer jobs at Greig’s are a teenage ritual in my hometown. (I once did the “put the apples into cold storage” job, in fact.) I don’t think they’re organic, but they sure are a staple of the local economy. ::trips down memory lane::

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