American farmers urged not to pollute for fruit

Environmentalists have renewed calls for a curb on the use of ozone-destroying pesticide methyl bromide in America.

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 community.

"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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