Lethal Request

US grain millers seek exemption from ban on methyl bromide

Published: Sunday 15 December 2002

The North American Millers' Association (NAMA) has asked the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to be exempted from a ban on methyl bromide. The chemical is used for fumigation in grain mills. Association members say that the ban would cost the industry more than US $60 million annually.

However, scientific studies confirm that methyl bromide destroys the ozone layer. Under the Montreal Protocol, which limits emissions of such ozone depleting substances, the pesticide has to be phased out completely in industrialised countries by 2005.

The NAMA website argues that UN experts believe banning methyl bromide will not accelerate ozone healing. NAMA's stand has, however, been challenged in a report in the October issue of New Scientist . The report points out that when asked about the identity of the UN expert, NAMA was unable to reveal it. In fact, further evidence comes in the form of the United Nations Environment Programme assessment report released in August 2002, which says that an immediate ban on the chemical would reduce any further damage to the ozone layer by four per cent.

According to the New Scientist report, after the US rejected an international treaty on climate change, the country's biggest grain millers wanted the administration to go back on their Montreal Protocol commitment as well. NAMA has 42 member companies operating in 164 wheat, corn, oat and rye mills, with an aggregate daily production capacity of more than 725 million kilogrammes.

"Under the UN rules, our agricultural competitors are allowed to use methyl bromide. This will have an adverse impact on US agriculture," says Bernard J Rothwell III, chairperson, NAMA. He was referring to developing countries where methyl bromide use is allowed till 2015. The global annual consumption of methyl bromide is 71,400 metric tonnes (1996), out of which 75 per cent is in industrialised countries. The US is amongst the countries with the largest consumption. Developing countries with largest annual consumption include China, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Morocco and Costa Rica.

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