5000 farms phase out dangerous chemical

Posted: 4 April 2006

More than 5000 farms and organizations today joined forcesto accelerate the phase-out methyl-bromide, an agricultural pesticide that damages the ozone layer, the Earth's protective shield.

Methyl bromide has been used by farmers to kill pests in the soil before planting crops like tomatoes, strawberries, melons and flowers.

But in 1992 it was officially controlled as an ozone-depleting substance and is scheduled to be phased-out under the Montreal Protocol, theinternational treaty set up to protect the ozone layer.

The new International Partnership for Phasing-out Methyl Bromide brings together many farms and companies that have shown leadership in protecting the ozone layer.

These include farmers' associations and supermarkets such as Marks & Spencer and Co-op - with international organizations such as UNEP, FAO, UNIDO, UNDP, GTZ, MPS and CAB International.

Success story

The Partnership aims to accelerate the world-wide switch from methyl bromide to ozone-friendly alternatives.

Shafqat Kakakhel, Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP),and Officer in Charge of the Partnership, said: "The battle to restore the ozone layer, which protects all life on Earth from harmful solar Ultra Violet-radiation, has been one of the greatenvironmental success stories with a wide range of chemicals such as Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) already largely phased out under the MontrealProtocol.

"However methyl bromide, one of the last on the list, is proving harder to remove with some farmers convinced that the alternatives are ineffective or too costly. By demonstrating the fact that thousands of farms and companiescan grow, source and sell products without using this chemical, the Partnership sends a clear signal that a methyl bromide-free world ispossible sooner rather than later," he added.

A survey carried out for the Partnership has so far identified more than 5000 commercial farms that produce tomatoes, peppers, melons, strawberries, and flowers without using methyl bromide. The farms are located in more than 30 countries around the world.

The Partnership plans to establish a business-to-business Internet-based service, linking grocery stores seeking goods produced without methylbromide with farmers and suppliers who do not use methyl bromide. This will link with agricultural certification organisations so that companies can confidently purchase flowers, strawberries, tomatoes, melons, and other products that are certified as grown without methyl bromide.

Spanish example

Farms and companies that join the Partnership have already stopped using methyl bromide or will pledge to halt their use of methyl bromide by September 2007, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol.

The Partnership is a public-private initiative, which encourages companies to take voluntary steps to augment national environmental regulations that control methyl bromide.

Among those involved are farmers of the Almería region of Spain who produce almost 60 per cent of the vegetables exported from that country, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and melons. Juan Colomina Figueredo, Managing Director of COEXPHAL Association ofFarmers and Exporters of Fruit and Vegetables in Almería said: "Several years ago our farmers eliminated methyl bromide from this very largeagricultural region, and supermarket customers are happy with the results."

Marks & Spencer senior technologistEmmett Lunny supports the desire to see a world growing fresh produce. "Sterilising the same piece ofland, without rotations, is not good agricultural practice. There are many other options available (chemical & non-chemical) backed up by scientific research. Our Egyptian strawberry supplier, for example, has this yearcompletely phased-out methyl bromide."

Source: UNEP

Background note:

Parts of the ozone layer have become significantly thinner compared to the 1970s, due to the use of chemicals such as CFCs, halons andmethyl bromide (MB). A Canadian government study in 1997 estimated that phasing-out ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol willprevent the occurrence of about 129 million cases of eye cataracts and 20 million cases of skin cancer, as well as providing other health benefits.

In addition, it prevents damage to fisheries, agriculture and industrial materials, giving a net benefit of more than US$ 224 billion. So far, the use of methyl bromide in industrialised countries has been reduced from more than 56,000 tonnes in 1991 to about 14,500 tonnes in 2003 (excluding quarantine treatments). Consumption has also been reduced in many developing countries. Globally, 106 countries reported that they did not consume MB in 2003, except for treatment of quarantine pests in somecases - 55 of these countries used methyl bromide in the past.

As a result, the quantity of the chemical detected in the atmosphere has fallen significantly since 1998, but scientists warn that many small, remaining uses risk negating the gains achieved. The ozone layer will not recover if the Montreal Protocol phase-out commitments are not implemented in full.