From Bay Citizen:

Organic-produce buyers who think they are striking a blow against a chemical-heavy industrial food system may be surprised when it comes to one of California’s signature fruits: those “organic” strawberries that overflow from baskets at local farmers’ markets are not nearly as organic as they may think.

In a letter sent to the United States Department of Agriculture last month, an advocacy group in San Francisco and a triad of local growers demanded an end to what they say are vague federal regulations that allow millions of pounds of toxic chemicals to be used to grow plants that eventually produce strawberries labeled as organic.

“Seeds and plant stock widely used in organic agriculture are grown with prohibited materials that violate existing regulations and that jeopardize the credibility of the organic label,” the letter reads. Signed by three growers and the Pesticide Action Network, it added that officials with the National Organic Program at the department “must act with some urgency” to support production of a berry that is sustainable from start to finish.

Berries — including blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries — present a unique challenge to growers of organic crops. They all go through at least one rotation as non-fruiting nursery plants, and during that stage are fumigated with chemicals including methyl bromide, a soil sterilizer and pesticide known to be depleting the ozone layer.

The letter singles out strawberries, a particularly pest-prone crop and the jewel of California’s fruit basket. The state pumps out crates of the berries by the millions, shipping them across the country and internationally. It also produces the majority of the world’s strawberry nursery plants.

What it lacks is a single organic nursery.

In 1984, California produced the nation’s first commercially farmed organic strawberry, sold out of the back of a truck in Santa Cruz. The owner of that truck, Jim Cochran, who now manages a 20-acre organic berry farm, Swanton Berry Farm, in Davenport on the coast north of Santa Cruz, is one of the letter’s signers.

National regulations require that organic produce be grown for three years without synthetic pesticides. Strawberries in California are grown over a five-year cycle, often starting as nursery plants in the fields of Southern California before being transplanted to the sandy soils of Northern California.Before they begin bearing fruit, virtually all plants — whether they will go on to produce conventional berries or organic ones — are treated with fumigants and other synthetic pesticides.

More.

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