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CABI helps phase out dangerous pesticide in EU

Methyl bromide is a highly toxic fumigant pesticide which is injected into soil to sterilise it before planting crops. It is also used as a post-harvest decontaminant of products and storage areas. Although it is highly effective in eradicating pests such as nematodes, weeds, insects and rodents, it depletes the ozone layer and poses a danger to human health.

The "Partners Award" forms part of the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol - an agreement signed by more than 180 countries in 1987 - in a bid to stop the use of controlled ozone depleting substances.

It will be presented to CABI for identifying and documenting alternatives to replace methyl bromide, for implementing a system to transparently assess requests for its critical use and for supporting the development of a methyl bromide phase-out management strategy.

Methyl bromide was listed under the Montreal Protocol as a potentially dangerous pesticide. Dr Janny Vos, CABIs leading pesticide alternatives scientist, explains:

In the 1970s and 80s, growing evidence suggested that methyl bromide could cause damage to both the ozone layer and human health. Scientists found that occupational exposure to the substance could be linked to cancer. As a result, methyl bromide was banned under the Montreal Protocol in 1992.

All industrialised countries were asked to consent to phase out methyl bromide use by January 1st 2005. Developing countries were given until 2015.

However, although alternatives were found for more than 93% of the uses of methyl bromide, many countries claimed that because of regulatory restrictions, availability, cost and local conditions, they had little choice but to continue its use as a pest control. As a result they sought exemption for so-called critical use of methyl bromide from the protocol.

In order to help reduce the number of exemptions being awarded in the EU, CABI and its partners worked with the European Commission to develop and implement a system to assess requests for the critical use of methyl bromide, based on the Montreal Protocol as well as additional EC regulation.

CABI also looked at alternative practises around the globe, especially in countries that have similar climatic conditions to those requesting the continual use of methyl bromide. They presented countries with alternatives such as fumigants and chemicals, biocontrols and physical practices such as solarisation and steam treatment of the soil.

On CABIs collaboration with the European Commission, Dr Vos said:

We are extremely proud of the joint efforts of CABI and the European Commission to significantly reduce the usage of this Methyl Bromide in the EU. Our work will help set the precedence for reducing the use of methyl bromide in other parts of the world, and also for reducing reliance on other hazardous pesticides in the future.

Thanks to CABIs work, results have been impressive. In 2005, 5.7 million kg of methyl bromide was requested for critical usage by EU member states. In 2007 only 0.5 million kg was approved to five EU countries, with a majority of these pledging total elimination by 2008.


Contact: Lynsey Sterrey

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