I will never eat another strawberry again: the biopolitics of consumer-citizenship in the fight against methyl iodide in California
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In March of 2012, following a robust activist campaign, Arysta LifeScience withdrew the soil fumigant methyl iodide from the US market, just a little over a year after it had finally been registered for use in California. As a major part of the campaign against registration of the chemical, over 53,000 people, ostensibly acting as citizens rather than consumers, wrote public comments contesting the use of the chemical for its high toxicity. Although these comments had marginal impact on the outcome of the case, these comments are of interest for what they say about public action at a time when efforts to address food and agricultural issues have been dominated by “voting with your fork.” Based on a qualitative textual analysis of approximately 3500 representative comments made available to us, we show that many of those taking action did not abandon consumer subjectivities associated with neoliberal governmentality. By threatening “personal boycotts,” some were acting in their capacity as individual consumers; in invoking their own and their children’s health many more were also acting on behalf of consumers, despite that the chemical in question is applied before strawberries are planted and thus leaves no residues. The emphasis that letter writers gave to their own bodies reinforces the idea that some bodies count more than others and thus reveals a biopolitical sorting. Having consumer lives matter is consequential in light of evidence that consumer concern about pesticides has historically led to formulations and regulations more protective of consumers than workers and neighbors.
KeywordsConsumer-citizenship Strawberry industry Pesticides Boycott Farm labor Soil fumigants Neoliberal governmentality Biopolitics
California Environmental Quality Act
Critical use exemption
California Department of Pesticide Regulation
United States Environmental Protection Agency
Funding for the research contained herein was provided by the National Science Foundation, Award #s 1228478 and 1262064. We are grateful for the research assistance of Zoe Chertov and Savannah Coker, as well as the generative comments of three anonymous reviewers.
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