Nearly two years ago, methyl bromide was banned under international treaty except in critical cases, but after Friday, the U.S. farmers are exempt from the ban if the pesticide is used on tomatoes, strawberries and some other crops in agriculture-heavy states such as Florida and California.
The agreed-upon 5,900 tons is a significant drop from the 7,100 tons requested by the administration, which is a step toward continuing the downward trend of methyl bromide production and use. The cut was agreed on after the panel pointed out that other countries have successfully used alternatives to methyl bromide.
Jay Vroom, president of the pesticide association CropLife America, said that America's diverse agriculture needs methyl bromide to subsist, and the decision in New Delhi was an appropriate compromise.
"By no means is there one product that will fit all the critical uses of methyl bromide today," he said, adding that exemptions such as the New Delhi decision were necessary while alternative pesticides were researched. "We're not there yet, and the American farmer needs to have these tools so we can continue to be have viable exports."
The Bush administration also maintains that their stockpiles existed before the 2005 ban, and therefore do not count toward the treaty rule that only allows new production of methyl bromide if current supplies are insufficient. The inventory is needed to allow growers to adjust to the methyl bromide phase-out ordered in 1992, officials said.
Still, after legal action from the pesticide industry failed to stop Environmental Protection Agency figures from going public, it was discovered that the methyl bromide supply is dwindling -- down more than 18,000 tons to 11,000 tons during the last two years. Methyl bromide levels have dropped by 75 percent since 1991 as more farmers switch to alternate pesticides.
"The U.S. position is that we are appropriately managing the strategic reserve," said Drusilla Hufford, director of the EPA's stratospheric protection division. "We've drawn it down every year."
According to Hufford, the United States has spent $150 million on alternative pesticides.
Still, a major concern for opponents to the decision -- voiced by delegates from European nations -- is the stockpiles of methyl bromide in the United States are still quite massive, despite the drop in supply.
"It was indeed a very big concern that that there were quite substantial amounts of stock existing, which we consider that they should now consume as soon as possible," said head of the Finland delegation Jukka Uosukainen.
Sascha Von Bismarck of the Environmental Investigation Agency said, "It's extremely disappointing that now that the U.S. has finally confirmed its enormous stockpile, it continues to fight tooth and nail to get special treatment in the world to use a gas that will cause increased skin cancer and a host of other environmental effects."
Scientists have stated that the ozone layer hole above Antarctica is currently the biggest on record.