Under an international treaty, the Montreal Protocol, all use of methyl
bromide in agriculture should have ceased in January this year.

But powerful lobbies have won exemptions from the US administration and its
use is still widespread in Florida and California.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has this week called on the
Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association ands California Strawberry Commission
to urge their members to immediately halt the use of the chemical.

“US skin cancer rates are increasing each year and melanoma incidence in
children has more than doubled in the last two decades, yet the Florida
tomato and California strawberry industries continue to use a chemical that
destroys the Earth’s protective ozone layer,” said EIA assistant campaigner,
Danielle Gabriel.

She argued that destructive properties of methyl bromide were destroying
international efforts to protect the ozone layer, citing the example of the
Czech Republic where authorities were forced to issue health warnings as the
ultraviolet radiation index reached an all time high due to an ozone hole
over the region in June.

This past April, the ozone layer over the northern hemisphere thinned to its
lowest level in recorded history, stunning the international scientific

“Despite having had 13 years to prepare to quit using methyl bromide (since
the Montreal Protocol was drawn up), the Florida Fruit & Vegetable
Association and California Strawberry Commission have instead chosen to
lobby the US government for special exemptions to keep using millions of
pounds of this toxic chemical,” she said.

The agricultural industry and its supporters in Washington have argued the
exemptions are necessary so as not to disrupt the market and that as many
agricultural fumigants are inherently toxic, and that therefore there was a
strong desire not to replace one environmentally problematic chemical with
another even more damaging.

The EIA believes there are a number of effective and affordable ozone-safe
alternatives to methyl bromide.

“We are confident that the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association will agree
that the health of the ozone layer and the protection of our children are of
paramount concern,” said Ms Gabriel.

“We are urging the Florida tomato industry to set an example for the rest of
the agriculture industry by halting its methyl bromide use within the year.
Agribusiness acknowledges the problems associated with methyl bromide and
other fumigants, and claims it is working towards a solution.

In July the California Strawberry Commission announced it would be spending
$500,000 to research the issue.

Neil Nagata, chairman of the commission’s research committee said its work
on reducing emissions at the farm level is a positive step.

“The commission is taking an important and responsible step by focusing on
finding tools and practices that will keep fumigants contained in the soil
until they have completely broken down,” said Mr Nagata.

“This research will help growers use their fumigants more effectively and
augment the state’s already strict standards for worker safety and
environmental protection.”

By Sam Bond

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