NAIROBI, Kenya, November 14, 2003 (ENS):
International ozone negotiations foundered today on
insistence by the United States that its farmers be
permitted to continue using the pesticide and fumigant
methyl bromide as an exemption to the terms of the Montreal
Protocol, a treaty to phase out chemicals that destroy
the Earth's protective ozone layer.
Under the treaty, the United States began phasing out
methyl bromide 10 years ago. Production is supposed
to end January 1, 2005, except for "critical uses"
for which there are no safer alternatives. Even these
exemptions are limited to 30 percent of the 1991 baseline
But in Nairobi the U.S. delegation demanded that it
be allowed to increase production in 2005 by nearly
one-third, up to 39 percent of 1991 levels.
Although the proposal exceeded all other countries'
exemption requests combined, other countries offered
to give the United States exemptions totaling 30 percent
of the 1991 levels.
But delegates found the United States intractable on
their 39 percent demand, and the contact group negotiating
on methyl bromide was able to reach no agreement.
U.S. lead negotiator Claudia McMurray, deputy assistant
secretary of state for environment, denied that the
U.S. nominations for methyl bromide critical use exemptions
would undermine the Montreal Protocol. But the European
Union and other countries objected to such a large exemption.
Facing a deadlock over the issue, negotiators scheduled
a special meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol
in March 2004.
Environmentalists were critical of the U.S. position.
David Doniger, Climate Center policy director at the
Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "Reversing
the methyl bromide phaseout would raise cancer risk
and punish the responsible businesses that invested
in safer alternatives."
"The administration could have had world agreement
on more than three-quarters of its demand, but instead
has continued to demand it all, with no hint of compromise,"
Doniger said. "To their credit, other countries
are holding fast to the terms of the treaty."
California Strawberry Commission representatives attending
the Nairobi meeting supported the U.S. delegates in
their efforts to win approval of critical use exemptions
(CUE) for 2005 at 39 percent of the base rate.
Commission Chairman Mark Murai said the strawberry
organization, "appreciates the strong stance taken
by the U.S. delegates to defend the U.S. request."
Murai said it appeared that "the main reason for
the breakdown was the opposition of the European Union
to any CUE exceeding 30 percent of the baseline."
Although 39 percent was a higher request than from
any other country, it represented 40 percent less than
American agriculture had requested from the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, Murai said. Methyl bromide is used
to control insects, nematodes, weeds, and pathogens
in more than 100 crops including peppers, eggplants,
and sweet potatoes, forest nursery seedlings, fruit
tree nurseries and orchards, and in ginger production.
The Strawberry Commission now expects that legislation
sponsored by Congressman George Radanovich of California
will gain support in Congress. The Radanovich bill would
allow growers to apply methyl bromide in 2005, up to
39 percent of the base rate regardless of the Montreal
If this bill becomes law it would place the U.S. in
violation of the treaty, which was negotiated and ratified
under President Ronald Reagan and President George Bush.
Methyl bromide is the most destructive ozone depleting
chemical still in widespread use. Depletion of the ozone
layer increases risk of skin cancer, cataracts and immunological
disease for millions of people worldwide. Methyl bromide
is known to cause prostate cancer serious injury to
lungs and nervous system of agricultural workers.
In October, the United Nations Environment Programme's
Methyl Bromide Technical Options Committee recommended
that some 5,300 tons of the chemical be permitted for
use on U.S. strawberry and tomato fields because no
alternatives are commercially available.
Still, said the panel, "several fumigant alternatives
are providing effective control of pests in many circumstances."
The panel approved the U.S. critical use exemptions,
but with reservations, saying it "could not determine
why some of these alternatives were not feasible in
the specific circumstances of the nomination, but accepts
statements in the nomination that alternatives were
While the California Strawberry Commission continues
to work towards the adoption of viable alternatives
to methyl bromide, suitable alternatives are still in
short supply, Murai said.
In Nairobi, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)
warned of a variety of unscrupulous and illicit practices
involving methyl bromide, including unreported stockpiling,
dumping into developing countries by industry, and increasing
In an address to the plenary session, the nongovernmental
organization warned that critical use exemptions should
not be granted without full assessment of stockpiles
and actions to counter smuggling.
Alexander von Bismarck, senior campaigner and investigator
with EIA, said, “As well as depleting the ozone
layer, methyl bromide is a highly toxic and dangerous
chemical. Countries should ask if it is judicious to
allow more of this chemical into the market when they
don’t know who’s stockpiling it, where it
is, or where it is going.”
“At this crucial time when the ozone hole is
at it’s largest size," von Bismarck warned,
"this historically successful body is in danger
of taking a blind step in the wrong direction. The Montreal
Protocol should not abandon the precautionary principle
on which it is based.”
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2003. All Rights