Nigeria: Argument Over Methyl Bromide

The National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control [NAFDAC] recently banned the use of Methyl Bromide as a fumigant for pest control in crops. A statement signed by its Director General Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye warned the public, farmers, exporters of agricultural produce and agro-input dealers to desist from using Methyl Bromide as pesticide.

NAFDAC said Methyl Bromide is colourless, odourless, non-corrosive and non-flammable, highly toxic to a broad spectrum of insects from egg to the adult stage, and that it was primarily used as a fumigant in stored product pest management. The agency said "Methyl bromide is a Class I Ozone Depleting Substance (ODS). It depletes the ozone layer due to the release of bromine atom upon the breakdown of the molecule. Methyl Bromide is a scheduled chemical under the Montreal Protocol for substances that deplete the ozone layer and was placed on a Phase out Procedure from 2001."

Prof. Adeyeye said the chemical is not meant to be in the country because Nigeria phased it out in January 2015, and that since after its ban, the product has not been permitted for importation into the country. Adeyeye said NAFDAC got information that some "unscrupulous individuals have been illegally importing Methyl Bromide for use as pesticide in Nigeria." She said NAFDAC is currently carrying out surveillance to identify such illegal importers and that they would be severely sanctioned in line with the country's extant laws.

The DG of NAFDAC said Methyl Bromide is an extremely toxic vapour; adding that brief exposure to high concentrations and prolonged inhalation of lower concentrations by humans are hazardous to health. She also said Methyl Bromide is a dangerous cumulative poison. The first symptoms, she said, were often due to damage to the nervous system, which may be delayed from 48 hours to as long as several months after exposure. "This delay, combined with Methyl Bromide's lack of odour, means that the victim may not realize that exposure is occurring until much time has passed", she added.

In its reaction however, the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) said the healthy use of Methyl Bromide for the control of agricultural pest remains permissible in Nigeria, especially for the export of Hibiscus to Mexico. NAQS was responding to the recent warning issued by NAFDAC to the effect that Methyl Bromide has been phased out and its use in Nigeria is now prohibited because of the impact of the substance on climate change; particularly the depletion of the ozone layer.

In an official statement signed in Abuja by the agency's Head of Media and Communication Strategies, Dr Chigozie Nwodo, NAQS said only it has the mandate to "make a public pronouncement on the use of Methyl Bromide"; and that any possible announcement of a change in the regime of the use of Methyl Bromide will, in future, emanate from NAQS.

Nwodo said that the use of Methyl Bromide was allowed for controlled quarantine use due to lack of suitable alternatives, especially where specific request for its use is made. He said: "Mexico as a nation specifically requests the use of Methyl Bromide in the treatment of Hibiscus shipment to their country; a trade that yielded over $35 million for Nigeria within nine months in 2017 alone." He also affirmed that the use of Methyl Bromide for the treatment of solid wood packaging materials in international trade is allowed under the International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPM) 15.

The current disagreement between NAFDAC and NAQS over the use of Methyl Bromide as a fumigant for pest control in crops is something to worry about because human health is involved. The general public gets confused when two professional agencies engage in open media war. We advise NAFDAC and NAQS to bring together scientific and legal experts to guide both agencies towards arriving at a solution that will safeguard the health of Nigerians.

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