Exposing Industry Secrets: Are Your "Organic" Strawberries Really Organic?

strawberries, organic strawberries
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The term ‘organic’ can be a tough one to decipher. It can be shocking when you hear that supposedly certified organic strawberries aren’t so organic after all. Although organic strawberries sell for 50% to 100% more than conventional berries, organic strawberries are fumigated with toxic chemicals, including methyl bromide, at the beginning stages of their life-cycle.

Methyl bromide is used to sterilize the soil before strawberries are planted. It’s not sprayed on the fruit. It’s a soil fumigant that kills just about everything it touches. Many hybridized seed varieties have been created that can only grow in sterile soil. [1]

“The soil is, as a matter of fact, full of live organisms. It is essential to conceive of it as something pulsating with life, not as a dead or inert mass.”
– Albert Howard, The Soil and Health, 1947  [1]

“For most of agriculture’s 10,000-year history, farmers have succeeded or failed based on their ability to nurture life within the soil. The microorganisms and earthworms that thrive in healthy soil metabolize nutrients and make them available for crops. They also convert animal and vegetable waste into humus, thus regenerating their own habitat and maintaining that thin layer of topsoil on which all terrestrial life depends.

In modern agriculture, however, soil operates as a medium, not a habitat: It exists to transfer synthetic, pre-metabolized nutrients from factories to crops. In this regime, any life form found in soil is at best innocuous — and at worst, a threat. When a vast crop is planted in the same field year after year, its pests concentrate in the soil, waiting to strike.” [1]

Bottom Line

Prior to the fruit-bearing stage, virtually all strawberries – regardless of if they continue on as conventionally-grown berries or organic ones – are treated with toxic chemical fumigants and other unsavory pesticides.

Strawberries are particularly subject to pests. It takes a lot of toxic chemicals to keep production and thus profits up in these vast mono-crop strawberry farms.

The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of strawberries. California is responsible for approximately 75 percent of the fresh and processed strawberries exported. Almost 90 percent of US-grown fresh strawberries come from California. It’s also where the majority of the world’s strawberry nursery plants emanate, but there’s not one single organic nursery there. [2]

A truly organic approach to growing strawberries involves rotating strawberries with other crops like broccoli or a suitable cover crop. Broccoli is a natural fungicide and protects strawberries.

Rotating crops prevents pathogens from setting up house and multiplying. “Most fungi attack in summer, survive the winter as spores in the soil or plant litter, then attack again in the next growing season. So planting the same crops in the same fields year after year allows pathogens to build their populations.” [3]

Response From Driscoll’s Berries Owner

People have been copying and pasting this response from Driscoll’s owner into the comments section on Facebook posts to clarify some things. You can read it below:

“Wow, that’s a total lie. We at Driscoll’s have an organic nursery, but it’s only for Driscoll’s growers. Only methyl bromide was never registered. There were a few trials and they took it out of production 5 years ago. Secondly, call Santa Barbara county 805 934-6200. You cannot fumigate with methyl bromide and call yourself organic. California has the toughest control on Organics and is crazy. You cannot go back to back on Organics, you need to let the ground rest. There is a two year rotation to go back and plant berries and to make a farm organic. You need to transition your ground for 3 years farming wheat or mustard plants to get certified organic. This guy is lying out his teeth. Organic is more regulated then conventional berries.”

In 2010 as part of the U.S. agreement to the Montreal Protocol methyl bromide commercial use was supposedly banned. But strawberry field fumigation and several other common agriculture applications are excepted from the ban. Methyl bromide is also associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer in farm workers. [3]

More than 9.5 million pounds of pesticides, including over 3 million pounds of methyl bromide, is used annually to keep strawberries pest free. The replacement is Methyl Iodide is not much better. The FDA approved Methyl Iodine for restricted use in California in 2010, but many scientists, including five Nobel laureates, decry its negative health effects and environmental impact. [4]

In a joint effort to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from approving the use of methyl iodide: “More than 50 scientists, including five Nobel laureates, stated in a joint letter, “As chemists and physicians familiar with the effects of this chemical … we urge you to do whatever is possible to prevent this chemical from ever becoming a registered pesticide.” [4]

“Everyone agrees, without exception, that methyl iodide is a very toxic compound. It’s very reactive. That means it interacts with living tissue in very toxic ways, causing cell damage and damage to cell structures, DNA, or chromosomes,” explains Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, science director at Science and Environmental Health Network. “The upshot is it can cause a lot of health effects, including cancer and damage to tissues that are developing. In animal studies, it killed the fetuses of developing animals exposed by inhalation; fetuses were killed at relatively low doses. Nobody doubts it’s a nasty chemical.” [4]

Jim Cochran has been growing real organic strawberries at his 75-acre Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport minus any pesticides for over 30 years. He was the first farmer to grow organic strawberries in California.

But here’s the rub, he buys his starter plants from a nursery in northern California where toxic fumigants are used pre-fruit phase. Jim explains: “There’s a gray area in the rules.” Both Federal and state organic regulations give the nod allowing organic farmers to purchase non-organic starter material when they have no other options and still call their strawberries organic. [4]

According to the NY Times: California “doesn’t have a single organic berry nursery — hence the practice of relying on plants that grew on fumigant-using nurseries.” [4]

“The multi-crop organic farm is vastly more complex than the single-crop chemical strawberry farm. It requires much more management,” says Cochran. Crop rotation and organic methods are expensive and the yields are generally a little lower. “It’s not easy. What we’re up against is people who use chemicals and produce strawberries at $2.50 a basket and can still be quite profitable.” Cochran adds, “What we are trying to do is have it be organic from the very beginning, but it’s going to take some time to get to that point.” [4]

After seeing reactions and responses from both Cochran and Driscoll’s owner, there’s a lot to unpack. Pesticides are definitely being used and laws are being set in place to limit toxic exposure. But is it happening to the same extent, it at all, with truly organic strawberries? You may want to take Driscoll’s owner’s offer and give Santa Barbara County a call – or try growing your own.

Viable Organic Strawberries Options

Grow Your Own

For obvious reasons, I don’t recommend using seeds from store-bought strawberries. You can buy organic, heirloom strawberry seeds here.  You can find detailed information on how to start your seeds here.

Everbearing is a popular variety of strawberry.  They produce strawberries throughout an entire growing season. Beginning in spring you’ll start seeing berries with intermittent fruit throughout summer and into early fall.

When the seedlings are ready to be transplanted, and if you’re pressed for space, you can use a garden tower.  Keep in mind, generally, strawberries need lots of sun and a well-drained, loamy (a soil that drains well but still retains moisture) soil.

Although this video doesn’t mention that organic strawberry starter plants sold at local nurseries are not really organic, it does mention that after fruiting, even organic strawberries are commonly sprayed with a copper fungicide.

Paul Fassa is a contributing staff writer for REALfarmacy.com. His pet peeves are the Medical Mafia’s control over health and the food industry and government regulatory agencies’ corruption. Paul’s valiant contributions to the health movement and global paradigm shift are world renowned. Visit his blog by following this link and follow him on Twitter here.

Article originally published on RealFarmacy.com. Republished with permission

  1. [1] Philpott, T. (2007, December 06). An EPA-approved pesticide is worse than the one it’s replacing. Retrieved from:, http://grist.org/article/sterile-soil-dirty-hands/
  2. [2] Top 5 of Anything. (n.d.). Top 5 Strawberry Producing Countries. Retrieved from:, http://top5ofanything.com/list/35769269/Strawberry-Producing-Countries
  3. [3] Lewis, H. (2011, April 8). How Broccoli Will Save Strawberries: Organic Farming Practices Leave Pesticides Aside. Retrieved from:, http://fruitguys.com/almanac/2011/04/08/how-broccoli-will-save-strawberries-organic-farming-practices-leave-pesticides-aside
  4. [4] Ronald, P. (2011, September 25). What makes an organically grown strawberry environmentally friendly? Retrieved from:, http://scienceblogs.com/tomorrowstable/2011/09/25/organic-strawberries-are-not-g/
  5. Prevent Disease. (n.d.). Organic Strawberries Are Still Grown With Millions of Pounds of Toxic Chemicals. Retrieved from:
  6. Steinberger, J. (2015, January 12). The Future Strawberry: Will the Loss of a Major Pesticide Help the Industry to Go Green? Retrieved from:, http://civileats.com/2015/01/12/the-future-strawberry-will-the-loss-of-a-major-pesticide-help-the-industry-to-go-green/#sthash.aWqFR3W3.dpuf
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