In 1985, the first Antarctic ozone hole was discovered. Just two short years after the discovery, the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty, was established to protect the disappearing stratospheric ozone layer. The treaty called for the phasing out of all ozone depleting chemicals and was negotiated and signed by 24 countries and the European Economic Community.
In those early years, global warming was a highly emotional issue and it has been suggested by some that perhaps the treaty moved too quickly in naming chemicals purported to be causing the ozone depletion, and then developing the plan to phase them out. At the time these chemicals were being identified, there was no scientific evidence that pointed to methyl bromide's role in depleting the ozone, but unfortunately it was included in the group of chemicals to be phased out.
No depletion proof
Since the establishment of the treaty nearly two decades ago, substantial research has been done on the affects of methyl bromide. As it turns out, there is no evidence demonstrating that agricultural uses of methyl bromide are a factor in ozone depletion. In fact, what the sound, objective evidence does clearly demonstrate is that natural sources (volcanic activity, the ocean's wave activity, etc.) release up to 100 times more bromide into the atmosphere than those caused by the use of methyl bromide by man.
Still, methyl bromide remains on the list of chemicals to be phased out, putting our nation's farmers and growers at an extreme disadvantage to compete in the growing global market. The treaty's response has been to allow for Critical Use Exemptions when there is no available alternative that is both technically and economically feasible, and acceptable from a public health standpoint.
The United States continues to push the position that in the absence of any feasible substitute, methyl bromide usage must continue. Currently, the only option for agriculture is the laborious Critical Use Exemption system.
Our nation's economy demands a healthy agricultural environment. Fortunately, our State Department, being well educated by leaders in the agricultural industry, is a fervent advocate on behalf of our nation's growers in the negotiation of Critical Use Exemptions. But it's an arduous system that is based on negotiations with the many other nations that are party to the treaty.
The Critical Use Exemptions for 2006 have been allotted — at 32 percent of baseline, and negotiations are currently under way for the requested 29 percent of baseline for 2007 Exemptions. What will be the level of reductions we're ultimately forced to accept?
While our nation takes its position on the continued use of methyl bromide, many nations, and the European Union in particular, are aggressively moving the treaty forward. Still other countries are not even parties to the treaty and insist they never will be, including two growing economic powers: China and India. They are under no regulations to discontinue or even reduce their use of methyl bromide.
None of this adds up to a bright future for America's agribusiness. It's time to ask some difficult questions in order to effect real change for our country and our industry.
If restrictions in the use of methyl bromide have made no environmental gain, should we be asking legislators to review our involvement in the treaty? What is our justification today?
If our economy depends on a strong agricultural industry, and our world deserves a safe food supply, shouldn't we be diligent in asking the difficult questions? Perhaps there is no longer justification for the treaty itself.
This is a diplomatic situation to be certain. We don't have the answers, but we do have lots of questions. We will continue working with our government to educate our leaders and promote the future of America's agribusiness. For more information on this topic, please write to me at WGoodrich@UAL.org.