Anti-Pesticide Activists Call for End of Methyl Bromide
March 21, 2013
When the ag industry's plans to introduce the fumigant methyl iodide crashed and burned last year, after Tokyo-based manufacturer Arysta Lifescience announced it was pulling the product from U.S. shelves, lawmakers and regulators immediately called for research into alternatives.
“This unexpected announcement has the potential to create shockwaves to the agriculture industry and could result in the loss of thousands of agricultural and agriculture-related jobs,” Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, said in a press release issued on the day Arysta made its plans public.
“Together we need to find a safe and viable alternative to ensure maximum crop production in our state."
A year later there's been research, but little commercial progress. Instead, regulators have called for special exceptions regarding the use of methyl bromide—the ozone-depleting fumigant being phased out under the Montreal Protocol. (That's the reason methyl iodide became so important to the ag industry to begin with.)
Thursday, anti-pesticide groups are turning over nearly 19,000 signatures to California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Matthew Rodriguez, asking him to end the use of methyl bromide.
"We believe ot will take several more years to achieve significant reductions or elimination of methyl bromide use," Rodriguez and California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross wrote in an Oct. 10 letter to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, requesting an an increase on allowable methyl bromide in California next year.
Thursday morning, about a dozen activists gathered final petition signatures.
"Instead of reducing the amount of methyl bromide, the EPA is asking for an increase," said Michael Marsh, an attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance. "This is a pesticide that should've no longer been used as of 2005."
Rodriguez and Ross are asking for 1.5 million pounds of methyl bromide in 2014, enough to cover a quarter of California's strawberry fields, up from the currently allowable 915,000 pounds.
They claim alternatives to methyl bromide simple aren't working well enough: "As strawberry growers have switched to these alternatives, certain plant pathogens appear to be increasing, requiring growers to return to methyl bromide use."
Since the Montreal Protocol introduced a gradual phase-out of ozone-depleting chemicals in 1989, different amounts of methyl bromide have received critical use exemptions, based on the argument that there's no adequate substitute for strawberries and other sensitive crops.
Gary Karnes of Monterey County Safe Strawberries, a coalition of community groups and nonprofits that rallied together in opposition to methyl iodide, said the group is getting back together again to fight against methyl bromide.