Ozone campaign targets strawberry growers

UK growers and supermarkets attacked over use of ozone-depleting pesticide

A UK consumer group has attacked strawberry growers for using the ozone-depleting chemical methyl bromide. Strawberry cultivation is the single largest consumer of methyl bromide in the country. The Food Commission said yesterday that growers were ignoring alternatives.

Methyl bromide is an agricultural pesticide. In strawberry growing, it is used to fumigate soil before planting. The Food Commission says that the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland have all phased out the use of methyl bromide in strawberry growing, though Belgium, France, Italy and other countries continue to use it for many crops. The group accuses British growers of "dragging their heels over getting rid of this harmful chemical".

Methyl bromide is a powerful ozone depleter, due to be phased out under the Montreal Protocol. Developed countries have already agreed to end all uses by 2010. International negotiations currently going on could see this deadline brought forward to 2001, though possibly with exemptions for "critical uses"..

The Food Commission says that German growers are using integrated pest management techniques or steam to sterilise soil, instead of methyl bromide. Dutch growers use peat, which does not harbour the pests that harm strawberries.

The group is putting pressure on strawberry growers by highlighting the issue to consumers. It is also targeting supermarkets, demanding that they label produce grown without methyl bromide.

The UK Summer Fruits Association, which speaks for strawberry growers, has accused the Food Commission of being "naive". A spokesman told ENDS Daily that growers had been looking for alternatives to methyl bromide but "at the moment there is no product that comes close" in terms of efficacy, safety and availability. Methyl bromide is highly toxic and its application can only be carried out in the UK by licensed companies - but it does not leave residues on food.

The spokesman said that it would not be viable to use peat instead of soil, as in the Netherlands. He stressed that growers had substantially cut their use of methyl bromide in the last few years. In the long term, he predicted, the solution would be to breed new varieties of disease-resistant strawberries, probably using genetic modification techniques.

Follow Up:
The Food Commission, tel: +44 171 628 7774; UK Summer Fruits Association: tel: 44 1892 834 064.

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