Methyl bromide and market access

Methyl bromide use for export log fumigation has been in the spotlight again with an application by a fumigation company, Envirofume Ltd, to use methyl bromide at the Port of Tauranga. The original application was rejected in early 2016 by an independent commissioner. An appeal by the company to the Environment Court has now been declined. Another fumigation company, Genera, who has consent to use methyl bromide for log fumigation is not affected by this ruling. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed that it considers existing controls for methyl bromide are fit-for-purpose and applicable. The EPA introduced a set of controls in 2010 when methyl bromide was reassessed. One of the requirements is that from 2020 onward no methyl bromide is to be emitted to the atmosphere when venting occurs at the end of a fumigation. This requirement complies with the Montreal Protocol agreement which is a treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of substances, including methyl bromide, that are responsible for ozone depletion. New Zealand is a signatory to this international climate change agreement.

The forest industry is currently reliant on methyl bromide for all log exports to India and for above deck exports to China. Since 2011 the industry has supported an active and comprehensive research programme (through a collaborative known as Stakeholders in Reducing Methyl Bromide – STIMBR) to seek alternative phytosanitary treatments to and to find ways of reducing and ultimately eliminating the release of methyl bromide to the atmosphere. This research has been supported by log exporters, forest growers and government through MBIE and MPI funding. This research programme has focused on:

  • Seeking to identify insect-free periods when insects are not active due to climatic conditions

  • Identifying alternative fumigants that are not ozone depleting, effective and can be used safely

  • The application of electrical energy to heat logs to a temperature that will kill insect pests in the logs

  • Investigating the possibility of debarking logs to a standard that is acceptable to market countries

  • Developing efficacy data to support reducing methyl bromide application rates

  • Technologies to recapture and destroy methyl bromide.

In all cases research must produce robust, credible and durable science for use by MPI officials in market access negotiations with importing countries. The data is necessary to provide evidence that supports any proposed changes to the importing country’s phytosanitary requirements. Good progress has been made in this programme and whilst there is currently no alternative to methyl bromide, there are some promising developments on all of the above that have the potential to reduce and potentially eliminate our industry’s use of methyl bromide. The latest decision puts even greater pressure on forest growers, log exporters, and researchers to find effective and viable alternative treatments that are acceptable to our export markets.

Port of Tauranga