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Midas’ Not-So-Golden Touch: On the Demise of Methyl Iodide as a Soil Fumigant in California

Guthman, Julie, Brown, Sandy
Journal of environmental policy & planning 2016 v.18 no.3 pp. 324-341
collective action, fumigants, industry, markets, methyl iodide, soil, California
The demise of the soil fumigant, Midas, was heralded as a major environmental movement achievement, when Arysta LifeScience eventually deemed it economically non-viable and withdrew from US markets just before resolution of a lawsuit. Building on scholarship that focuses on strategy to understand how social movements sometimes win, we show how activist tactics were able to exploit the missteps of their opponents. These included the unreasonable expectations of Arysta for grower adoptions, the foibles of the director of California's Department of Pesticide Regulation in registering the chemical, and the reluctance of California's strawberry industry to discontinue use of methyl bromide. Although activist tactics, such as public comments and protests, had only a modest impact on the regulatory process, they had a major impact on grower adoptions of the chemical. This, together with a lawsuit that was not going well for the defendants, ultimately led to the withdrawal. Still, there was a great deal of luck involved, especially in the lawsuit in which the judge made rulings and statements favourable to the plaintiffs. Here, ‘scientization’, worked in favour of the movement rather than the industry.