Rep. Austin Scott, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture, held a public hearing to review the impact of enforcement activities by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on specialty crop growers. Specifically, Subcommittee Members addressed growing concerns that DOL is using the "Hot Goods" provision under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) in an arbitrary manner against producers of perishable agricultural commodities without regard for the inevitable destruction of the product and significant economic hardship inflicted on farmers and their employees.
Phase-Out of Methyl Bromide Could Disadvantage Agricultural Production and Trade, Subcommittee Hearing Addressed Impact on Farmers, Producers, Consumers
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Just thirty months before phase-out of the crop protectant methyl bromide, members of the House Subcommittee on Forestry, Resource Conservation, and Research yesterday criticized the Enviornmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for neither supporting nor submitting legislation to allow U.S. farmers the same opportunitirs to use methyl bromide as our trading partners.
The Montreal Protocol of 1991 defined methyl bromide to be an ozone-depleting chemical, which according to Title VI of the Clean Air Act requires the phase-out of the chemical that is widely used in agricultural crop protection. The application is used globally and in the U.S. to protect crops from insects, weeds, pathogens, and rodents and to treat imported fruits, vegetables, lumber and paper pulp, in accordance with federal law. The EPA has called for the phase-out of methyl bromide in U.S. production and importation by January 1, 2001.
"This policy is yet another example of well-intentioned environmental legislation imposing unreasonable mandates on working farmers in rural America. I have two fundamental concerns about this. First, we have no proven, cost effective substitute for methyl bromide. Second, without a proven alternative, I am concerned that American producers and merchants will be put at an unfair disadvantage," said Congressman Larry Combest, (R-TX ), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Forestry, Resource Conservation, and Research.
"Methyl bromide is an essential tool for many aspects of our modern agricultural industry. In addition to the large number of farmers and merchants who will be affected by the loss of this product, consumers will also be affected by the higher prices they will be forced to pay at their local market," said Combest.
The U.S. has only three years to phase-out methyl bromide and will not be permitted to take advantage of the exemptions for export and emergency uses contained in international treaties. The European Union and Japan, however, are not required to complete their phase-outs until 2005 and developing countries like China, India, Mexico, and Brazil have until 2015 to complete their phase-out processes. While the current Clean Air Act would end export uses for U.S. growers, Japan, Korea, Australia, and other countries specifically require methyl bromide for U.S. fruit and vegetable exports, thus effectively shutting the U.S. out of those markets.
"It is unacceptable and preposterous that we will take this important protectant from our farmers while the rest of the world will continue to use it. Under this disparity, U.S. farmers are at a competitive disadvantage. Without viable alternatives, the loss of methyl bromide use will devastate domestic and international trade," said Congressman Bob Smith (R-OR), Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture.
"To date, no legislation to ease restrictions for farmers has been supported, submitted, or prepared for submission by the Administration. It is unacceptable that our farmers are facing the total elimination of methyl bromide use in only two years and the Administration continues to do nothing. This situation cannot be tolerated," Smith said.
"It is imperative that Congress and the Administration work together to pass legislation that would bring U.S. law into alignment with the Montreal Protocol. Without such legislation, California farmers will be placed at a competitive disadvantage after January 1, 2001," said Congressman Cal Dooley (D-CA), the Subcommittee's Ranking Minority Member.
Combest represents Texas' 19th Congressional District which includes the Panhandle, South Plains, and Permian Basin in the U.S. House of Representatives. Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District, which includes most of eastern, southern, and central Oregon. Dooley represents California's 20th Congressional District, which stretches across the Lower San Joaquin Valley from Fresno to Bakersfield.