Daily News Archive
Fails to Stop Foreign Pest Invasions While Continuing Use of Ozone Depleting
(Beyond Pesticides, October 4, 2004) A new
rule published by USDA officials could triple worldwide use of a powerful
ozone-depleting chemical, while still not stopping foreign pest invasions,
according to the Natural
Resources Defense Council . This new rule follows several decisions
by the Bush administration to allow more use of the pesticide methyl
bromide, which is supposed to be phased out in 2005 under an international
The new rule is intended to reduce infestations by insects and other
pests that hitchhike on raw wood pallets, crates and other packing materials
carrying trade goods into and out of this country. But even USDA admitted
that treating these packing materials with methyl bromide won't keep
foreign pests from reaching our shores, and that switching to other
packaging materials -- processed wood (plywood and particle board),
plastic, and metal -- would be a more effective way to keep out the
bugs without harming the ozone layer.
"Hitchhiking pests are a serious threat to our forests and farms,
but there's a better solution than blowing a hole in the ozone layer,"
said David Doniger, policy director for NRDC's Climate Center. "The
problem is using raw wood for packaging. The solution is to switch to
other packaging materials that the bugs can't ride on."
Alien pests already have a foothold in our forests. For example, the
emerald ash borer, a beetle brought in on cargo from China or Korea,
has already destroyed millions of ash trees in Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario
and has also shown up in northern Virginia. Pests native to the U.S.
have also infested forests in China.
Despite promising in 2000 to consider a transition to bug-free packaging
materials, the USDA rule allows unlimited continued use of raw wood
packaging, provided it is treated with either heat or methyl bromide.
USDA expects most countries -- especially in the developing world --
to favor methyl bromide, causing world use to increase by as much as
102,000 metric tons (225 million pounds). That is double the total current
use of methyl bromide for all other purposes worldwide. The new rule
is set to take effect in September 2005.
Methyl bromide is scheduled for phase-out under the 1987 Montreal Protocol,
a treaty signed by President Ronald Reagan and supported by subsequent
U.S. presidents from both political parties. The accord is intended
to protect the ozone layer, which shields us from cancer-causing ultraviolet
radiation that increases risks of skin cancer, cataracts and immunological
disease. Methyl bromide also causes prostate cancer in agricultural
workers and others who are directly exposed.
The new USDA rule misuses a small exemption allowed by the treaty for
"quarantine" treatment to keep food and other agricultural
products free of pests. Until now, only about 10,000 metric tons of
methyl bromide has been used for this purpose worldwide each year. The
new USDA rule explodes this exemption by as much as 10 times, overwhelming
all other efforts to phase out methyl bromide and reduce its threat
to the ozone layer.
This new decision by the USDA follows a pattern by this administration
of industry-friendly increases in methyl bromide use. U.S. production
and use of methyl bromide was supposed to be eliminated in 2005 under
the Montreal Protocol. But in August the EPA proposed exemptions to
allow U.S. farmers to increase methyl bromide next year to levels higher
than they used in 2003. Also in August, USDA proposed a new system of
domestic exemptions that would allow farmers to increase use even above
TAKE ACTION: Write President
Bush in the White House and insist that the U.S. comply with the
Montreal Protocol and begin implementing alternatives. For more information,
see the Greenpeace
Ozone Layer Campaign.