MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, June 27, 2005 (ENS) - Alternatives to an effective pesticide that is also an ozone depletor are now being evaluated in agricultural production areas of Florida, say plant pathologists with the U.S. Agricultural Research Service. The search for alternatives to methyl bromide is intensifying now because the deadline for phaseout of the pesticide by industrialized countries was January 1, and many countries including the United States, are failing to meet that target.
The 189 member governments of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer will decide this week on how best to manage the phaseout of methyl bromide, a pesticide and soil fumigant for strawberries, flowers and other high-value crops that also damages the Earth's protective ozone shield.
They will also consider the level of funding that should be made available during the period 2006 to 2008 to enable developing countries to continue complying with their numerous reduction obligations under the Protocol.
Even industrialized countries are struggling to phase out methyl bromide, considered essential in the production of pepper, strawberry, tomato and flower crops in Florida and elsewhere in the United States and around the world.
Soil solarization, a technique that captures radiant heat energy from the sun, is one non-chemical alternative to methyl bromide.
Another non-chemical alternative is the use of biological agents to enhance disease resistance, such as beneficial soil bacteria that colonize plant roots and protect against disease.
Many farmers have eliminated or reduced the use of methyl bromide by switching to other fumigants and to non-chemical measures, such as grafted plants and barrier films.
Still, 16 countries are requesting 'critical use exemptions' under the protocol in 2006 for certain crops in order to buy more time for adopting more technically or economically feasible alternatives.
The Montreal Protocol allows governments to apply for exemptions when there are no technically or economically feasible alternatives or for health or safety reasons.
Eleven countries received a total of 13,438 metric tons of exemptions for the first year after the agreed phaseout date, January 1, 2005.
At the protocol's regular high level conference last November, developed countries were granted 11,000 tons of exemptions for 2006. Another 3,000 tons were approved on an “interim basis.”
Because they were unable to complete the list of 2006 exemptions as expected, governments decided to reconvene for a one-day Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties on July 1 to finalize the status of the 3,000 tons. A similar situation occurred last year, for the first time in the protocol's history, showing what a struggle growers and shippers are having to phase out methyl bromide.
The countries that have requested exemptions for 2006 are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, the UK and the US.
“Governments need to ensure that the trendline for exemptions points downward year by year,” said Executive Director Klaus Toepfer of the United Nations Environment Programme, under whose auspices the protocol was negotiated.
“This will not only accelerate the ozone layer's return to health but will send the right signal to their own farmers and to developing countries, whose methyl bromide phaseout has already begun and is to conclude by 2015,” Toepfer said.
The Open-Ended Working Group will consider additional requests for 2006 exemptions totalling 325 tons and requests from 15 countries for 2007 exemptions totalling 8,088 tons.
Working group members will also review a recent survey of how methyl bromide is used in the quarantine and pre-shipment of agricultural exports - a use that is not covered by the Protocol.
Developed countries have reduced the controlled production of methyl bromide from 66,000 tons in 1991 to less than 24,850 tons in 2003. Developing country production fell from a peak of over 2,380 tons in 1998 to some 960 tons in 2003.
Destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer increases the levels of UV-B radiation reaching the Earth's surface. Risks include more melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, more eye cataracts, weakened immune systems, reduced plant yields, damage to ocean ecosystems and reduced fishing yields, adverse effects on animals, and more damage to plastics.
The ozone layer is expected to stabilize and return to health in 50 years or so – but only if the Montreal Protocol's phaseout schedules are fully respected.
Also this week, the Working Group will consider a report by the Protocol's Assessment Panel that recommends nearly $420 million in funding to support developing country efforts to phase out all of their ozone depleting substances.
This funding would constitute the fifth replenishment of the Montreal Protocol's Multilateral Fund. During its first 15 years, the Multilateral Fund has supported over $1.8 billion in projects and activities in 139 developing countries. This support has helped to phase out over 200,000 tons of ozone depleting substances.
The next replenishment will help developing countries to further eliminate the use of these substances as they look forward to their 2010 target for eliminating CFCs, halons and other major ozone depletors.
The Extraordinary Meeting will be preceeded by a four day session that opened today to prepare for the next regular annual conference, the December 12-16 Meeting of the Parties in Dakar, Senegal.
There are alternatives to methyl bromide, says Erin Rosskopf, with the U.S. Horticultural Research Laboratory, Fort Pierce, Florida, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research facility.
“An integrated approach that utilizes biologically based pest management tactics, such as beneficial soil bacteria, soil solarization, and biological control agents combined with crop rotations and cover crops will be a necessity in the future,” she said.
Attempts to identify chemical alternatives to methyl bromide have led to the re-examination of existing soil fumigants within the USDA,' said Rosskopf.
“While an emphasis is currently being placed on the short-term chemical replacements for methyl bromide due to the urgency driven by the phaseout plan,' she said, 'there is a need to be visionary in the development of more sustainable production systems for methyl bromide-dependent crops.'