My colleague Susan Kegley alerted me to a new study in Environmental Science and Technology (ES&T) that illustrates the absurdity of chemically-dependent agriculture — particularly the lengths we'll apparently go to keep the needle in. Scientists are actually studying injecting up to 32,000 lbs/acre of concentrated ammonia into the soil to counteract a fumigant pesticide's ozone-depleting effects.
At issue is methyl bromide — a neurotoxic pesticide used in strawberry production in California. Methyl bromide destroys the ozone layer, so it's being phased out under the Montreal Protocol, the international agreement that bans ozone depletors. Growers were supposed to stop using it by 2005, but they've been successful in winning "critical use exemptions" to the ban, arguing that it's impossible to grow strawberries without fumigants.
Going organic is apparently unthinkable, and so conventional growers have been clamoring for "alternatives" to methyl bromide. If you read GroundTruth regularly, you already know that California regulators recently approved methyl iodide as one such "alternative". (PAN Executive Director Kathryn Gilje has the details in her blog.) Rather than moving strawberry production towards more sustainable practices, this approval replaces one volatile, neurotoxic, ozone-deleting chemical with another volatile, neurotoxic carcinogen.
The article in ES&T represents another, almost equally absurd "solution". "Depeleting Methyl Bromide Residues in Soil by Reaction with Bases" proposes to use another layer of chemical applications to counteract methyl bromide's ozone depleting side effects. The idea is that methyl bromide would be applied as usual, and then after it's done its job, concentrated ammonia would be pumped into the field to destroy it before it could escape into the atmosphere and damage the ozone layer. There are a few problems:
"The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." Einstein was right, but we don't have to be Einsteins to see that the failings of chemically-dependent agriculture can't be solved with more chemicals (i.e. ammonia) or different chemicals (i.e. methyl iodide).