A Methyl Bromide Tax Could Outweigh Ban

In a Feb. 6 panel debate on the use of the pesticide methyl bromide, one scientist supported the use of the chemical, another defended its forthcoming ban and agricultural economist David Zilberman, chair of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, called for a tax as the most efficient way to control use of the chemical.

Methyl bromide is used as a soil and structural fumigant in agriculture and in urban pest control. Strawberry growers are one of the primary users in California. Public health concerns over the chemical's toxicity and its role in depleting the ozone layer have led to agreements to phase out its use.

Production will be banned in the U. S. in 2001 and internationally by 2010. But a statewide ban is scheduled to take effect March 30 of this year, making California the only state where the pesticide cannot be used.

At the request of Gov. Wilson, the Legislature is now considering overturning or delaying the state ban.

Opponents of the ban claim that there is still uncertainty over the role of agricultural methyl bromide in ozone depletion, that California agriculture would suffer, and that no economical alternative has been found.

Those in favor of the ban point out that the chemical has already caused 18 deaths and its economic benefits are not worth the human health risks, including skin cancer resulting from ozone depletion. They maintain that several economically viable alternatives already exist.

But Zilberman pointed out that none of the 18 people who died due to exposure were agricultural workers and that most ignored posted warnings in urban areas.

The economic benefits of using the chemical on strawberries were high, he said. Overall, the cost to California agriculture of a methyl bromide ban has been estimated to be as high as $300 million.

Rather than banning the pesticide, Zilberman suggested imposing a higher tax to encourage some growers to abandon the chemical. Proceeds from the tax could be used to fund alternative methods.

--Suzanne Clark


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