Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I'll take my superfood without the side of malathion, please.

Photo by mystuart via Flickr
by Fawn Pattison, Executive Director

Is it blueberry season yet?

As soon as spring starts to poke its nose out, I start daydreaming about the delicious things I'll be eating from my garden and from the farmer's market this summer. Chief among my food fantasies: Blueberries.

What's not to love about a blueberry? They're small, cute, delicious, packed with vitamins and antioxidants, and they grow like crazy here in North Carolina. Here's something I don't love: the side-dressing of pesticides that come with conventionally-grown berries.

I got a jarring reminder of why I buy organic berries at yesterday's meeting of the NC Pesticide Board.

The Board was hearing the case of a farmer from Bladen county who had violated pesticide rules by sending workers in to harvest blueberries too soon after a pesticide application. The grower had applied a pesticide formula that included malathion - a notorious nerve poison - and had the berries harvested before the required 24-hour pre-harvest interval was up. One worker was hospitalized with suspected pesticide illness (though the exact cause could not be confirmed). The Ag Department's inspector came out several days later and collected samples. Those samples showed malathion residue. The grower was fined $800.

Just a moment. About those berries... Board member Benson Kirkman asked if the blueberries could have been on a farm stand for sale the same day.


Uncomfortable silence.

The berries were in fact harvested too early. But only by a few hours. Just 24 hours after an application of pesticides that could still be detected several days later - pesticides that may even have made workers sick - EPA rules allow those same berries to be harvested and put up for sale.

That's why blueberries landed on the "Dirty Dozen" pesticide list in 2010, and it's also a very good reason to buy organic blueberries this summer.

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