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Phase Out of Methyl Bromide – Implications for U.S. Horticulture
Scientists over the years
have discovered that the ozone layer has been slowly deteriorating, causing
harmful ultra-violet rays from the sun to enter into the earth’s
atmosphere. One of the causes
attributed to this deterioration is the use of ozone-depleting substances
such as methyl bromide. In
response to these findings, a group of countries signed an international
treaty, entitled the Montreal Protocol, and agreed to stop using
In the horticultural
industry, methyl bromide (also known as bromomethane) is used as an
agricultural fumigant to control the spread of pests such as insects,
rodents, and nematodes. It is
also used for soil fumigation before the planting of various fruits,
vegetables, ornamentals, and agricultural nurseries; for post-harvest
fumigation of commodities in storage and prior to shipment; and for
government-required quarantine treatment to prevent the spread of regulated
In light of the dependency that many horticultural growers have on methyl bromide and given the additional time developing countries will have in reducing their supplies of bromomethane, it is likely that the phase out of MB will place U.S. agricultural producers at a disadvantage when competing for export markets and could facilitate an increase of imports into the United States.
To assess the potential economic impact of the methyl bromide phase out on the U.S. horticultural industry, a study completed by the Economic Research Service and the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy determined that the potential losses could reach $446 million in the short term. The horticultural crops most affected by the phase out include tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, grapes, nurseries, and tree nuts.
Without any viable alternative, the phase out of the agricultural fumigant could lower crop yields and severely impact the horticultural industry, which reached a record $10.9 billion in exports in fiscal year (FY) 2001 (October 2000-September 2001). Separately, shipments of tree nuts totaled $1.1 billion for the October-September 2000/01 period. Fresh fruit exports amounted to $2.2 billion and fresh vegetable exports $1.3 billion. Some of the fastest growing international horticultural shipments could also be affected; among them exports of apples registering $416 million, grapes $394 million, and dried plums $152 million in FY 2001.
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census
Quarantine and Preshipment
In response to concerns that U.S. enforcement
of the methyl bromide phase out was more stringent than called for in the
Montreal Protocol as well as trepidation that declining supplies could have
a negative impact on the export and import of food products, the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced several exemptions for the
continued use of MB. The EPA, in July 2001, specifically announced an
interim rule that exempts quarantine and preshipment applications of methyl
bromide. Many governments require MB treatments to allow for the import of
agricultural commodities to prevent the spread of quarantine pests.
These requirements are categorized under the quarantine exemption.
To protect commodity trade from the adverse impacts of quarantine pest infestations and to ensure the safety of the supply of imported fruits and vegetables available to the general public, the EPA issued an interim final action to amend the accelerated phase out regulations that govern the production, import, export, transformation and destruction of methyl bromide, (MB) and other ozone-depleting substances. The amendment, in accordance with the Montreal Protocol, specifically creates a temporary exemption for the quarantine and preshipment treatments of methyl bromide through December 31, 2002. It also includes an exemption for purposes of compliance with APHIS requirements or with any international, federal, state or local sanitation or food protection standard as long as the applications are performed within 21 days prior to export. It also includes quarantine applications for interstate and inter-county treatments required to control quarantine pests. The EPA intends to announce a final rule that will delineate quarantine and preshipment exemptions before the end of year. See the July 19, 2001 Federal Register, Part III, Environmental Protection Agency – 40 CFR Part 82 – Protection of Stratospheric Ozone: Process for Exempting Quarantine and Preshipment Applications of Methyl Bromide, Final Rule for additional details.
In addition to the quarantine and preshipment exemptions, the EPA has been meeting with stakeholders in developing a criteria for establishing critical use applications. It will also initiate a rulemaking process that will delineate the use of methyl bromide for critical and emergency treatments beyond the January 1, 2005 deadline. Exceptions for critical use will allow the use of MB in the following circumstances:
Emergency uses will allow a
country to use up to 20 tons of MB in cases of pest outbreaks or
infestations. The Environmental
Protection Agency is expected to issue a Federal Register notice sometime in
2002, soliciting public input to develop rules that will define critical and
emergency use exemptions.
(For further information, contact Rey Santella at 202-720-0897. Also, visit the HTP web page at: http://www.fas.usda.gov)
 Westlaw, March 2002
 Federal Register July 2001, Westlaw, March 2002