Administration Says Farmers Can Use Pesticide

The Bush administration announced new rules Thursday to allow U.S. farmers who grow tomatoes, strawberries and other crops to continue using methyl bromide (search), an ozone-depleting pesticide (search) that had been scheduled to be phased out worldwide next year.

The United States was among a dozen nations that won continued "critical use" exemptions from the phase-out at negotiations in Prague, Czech Republic last month. International negotiators granted the United States request to continue using the popular killer of insects and weeds at a rate of 37 percent, or 5,550 tons, of the 15,000 tons used in 1991.

The new rules take effect on Jan. 1 and allow most of the methyl bromide to be used by producers and importers of crops, with the rest allotted to distributors and other users.

Agency officials said in a statement the rules they were putting in place represent "the most simple and least burdensome option."

But in 2006, the United States may have to scale back to 27 percent, or 4,050 tons, at the insistence of international negotiators for meeting the goals of the United Nations' 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

Environmentalists say the United States habitually asks for far more than it needs and should not be seeking continued exemptions.

"Catering to a handful of big chemical and agribusiness interests, the Bush administration is actually expanding the use of this dangerous, ozone-destroying chemical," said David Doniger, a policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.