Methyl Bromide – what’s the go?

I was introduced to Methyl Bromide via a great article by Clive Blazely about imported Chinese garlic being sprayed with it on arrival to Australia. So when I started writing about how easy it is to grow your own garlic and I wanted to reference Methyl Bromide I thought I should get a better understanding of it first. I won’t go into how disturbing that research was. Let’s just run with “organic, organic, organic” as the motto for the week. Anyway, I ended up writing this post as a quick breakdown of Methyl Bromide for those of you who haven’t heard of it before:

What is it?

Otherwise known as Bromomethane, Methyl Bromide is a colourless, odourless, flammable gaseous pesticide. Or as the Australian Government says: “Methyl Bromide is a very toxic fumigant gas”. And yet, they spray our food with it.

What is it used for?

It is used by Australian Agriculture, Customs and Quarantine as a pesticide and fumigant.

How is it ingested?

Methyl Bromide can be ingested via breathing, consumption of contaminated food/drink or absorbed through the skin. Basically, if you’re around it, you’re ingesting it.

What are the health issues?

Severe exposure:

  • Death (you won’t get this from your day to day food, but if you’re a stevedore or are working with it professionally I’d do some further research)

Moderate exposure:

  • Ongoing respiratory effects
  • Ongoing kidney effects
  • Ongoing neurological effects

Minor exposure:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Tremors
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Seizures
  • Slurred Speech
  • Irritation to eyes
  • Irritation to skin (including blistering)

Most of these symptoms are the result of excessive consumption, but nowhere does it outline what “excessive” is. Is using imported garlic everyday excessive? Or eating strawberries twice a week? Or having rice in our meals every other day? What about a combination of these?

Oh yeah, and it’s considered to be a potential carcinogen.

What are the environmental factors?

It is a recognised serious ozone-depleting chemical. Enough so that the Montreal Protocol has all but banned it. If you buy food that needs methyl bromide to be sprayed on it then you’re encouraging the use of stuff that seriously effects the ozone layer.

What foods should you avoid if you want to avoid Methyl Bromide?

Honestly, if you want to be sure then you should go all certified organic. But that’s not feasible for 90% of the population, so just know that the worst offenders in Australia are:

  • Strawberries (Australian-grown)
  • Rice (Australian-grown)
  • Garlic (imported)
  • Other “fresh” imported fruit/veg

When buying these products buy organic.

What is the Australian Government’s stance?

In 2005 a national strategy for phasing out critical uses of Methyl Bromide was prepared. And, to the Australian Government’s credit, they have phased out a lot of the “Critical Uses”, but they’re still letting it be used on strawberry and rice production. I find it interesting that the Australian government totally and utterly recognise that it’s terribly toxic and environmentally destructive and yet still allow its use. For the government’s own words on methyl bromide, see  here and here and here. When the government themselves admit that it’s awful then you have to wonder just how awful it really is…..

Tiny Change for the Day: Ensure any strawberries, rice or garlic that you eat are certified organic to avoid methyl bromide.

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