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
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
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 Protocol inaction.
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 smuggling.
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 Reserved.