EPA Corruption and Methyl Iodide Strawberries

on Sunday, May 1, 2011

There has been a lot of concern recently regarding methyl iodide, a chemical used to disinfect soil before growing strawberries and other fruits. It replaces methyl bromide, which was phased out beginning in 1999 and became completely banned in 2005. (The EPA claims that methyl bromide destroys the ozone layer.)

In my view, when something like this happens we are well served by examining who stands to profit from government intervention; the story the general public hears isn't necessarily relevant when there are thousands of chemicals that "damage the ozone layer." One to two billion tons of methyl bromide are produced naturally by marine organisms each year. Banning the manufacture of a gas that is so prevalent in the world seems suspect to me.  I can't help but wonder who owns the company that produces the new product that is the best replacement.

In this case the paper trail of corruption seems relatively clear.  Methyl iodide was patented by UC Riverside, and licensed to Arysta LifeScience in 1999, the same year that the EPA's phaseout began. Arysta is the world's largest privately held "crop protection" company, grossing $1.2 billion in 2007. As the phase-out began to lower the available supply, the price of methyl bromide rose from $600 per acre to over $3,000 per acre.  At this point the president and CEO of Arysta, Elin D. Miller, is appointed to work for the EPA.  A year later, a curious coincidence occurred.  On October 5th of 2007, the EPA approved methyl iodide, and on October 22nd of 2007, Arysta is purchased by Permira Advisers LLP, Europe's biggest buyout firm, for a cool $2.2 billion. Because Arysta is a private firm, we don't know how much of the company was still owned by Elin when the sale was completed. This seems like blatant corruption to me.

Today, the replacement chemical costs $4,800 per acre, and the only reason the new chemical is viable in the market is because of the EPA's (Elin Miller's?) ban on the much cheaper, safer methyl bromide. If methyl bromide were still legal it would be selling for $600 per acre, making its alternative ridiculously expensive.

I think that this type of corruption is simply normal behavior for government agencies. Regulation is just a fancy word for putting a company out of business so that a new one can take its place. In this case the legalization of methyl iodide and the banning of methyl bromide shifted profits away from farmers and Great Lakes Chemical (the primary producer of methyl bromide in the US), and to the Arysta corporation and its new owners. It seems clear to me that what the EPA does has little to do with public health, and everything to do with corporate profits.