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Berry Weapons of Mass Destruction

It has often been said that the Republicans in charge of the federal government are bent upon dragging America back into the past, to dwell upon long-forgotten battles and repeat old mistakes all over again. This week, the Bush Administration lurches America backwards 17 years, to 1987 - a time when the Cold War was still raging, personal computers were little more than places to organize family recipes, and inefficient industrial technologies were still the standard.

Back in 1987, the United States joined an international agreement called the Montreal Protocol. The Montreal Protocol made it illegal for member countries to use methyl bromide, a deadly neurotoxin originally developed during World War II as a chemical weapon. This chemical weapon was to have been completely banned by January 2005, but under the leadership of the Republicans, it has continued to be manufactured in American factories at an astonishing rate.

Seventeen years later, the Bush Administration is claiming that it is exempt from the requirements of the Montreal Protocol. The Republicans in the White House have developed a plan for 9,379 tons of the chemical weapon methyl bromide to be manufactured and used in 2006.

The obvious irony is that George W. Bush invaded Iraq upon the pretext that Iraq was building huge stockpiles of chemical weapons and was not honoring its international obligations. Yet, the Bush Administration itself is manufacturing thousands of tons of chemical weapons, and refusing to honor the international treaties previously agreed to the United States banning those weapons.

What excuse do the Republicans have for manufacturing huge stockpiles of this chemical weapon? Strawberries. The Republicans say that they need thousands of tons of weapons of mass destruction in order to grow strawberries. As I read this pathetic excuse, I wonder what the angry faces of Fox News would have had to say if Saddam Hussein used the strawberry defense to justify producing weapons of mass destruction.

dragon rock sketchThe plain truth is that it is not necessary to use methyl bromide, or any other chemical weapon, to grow strawberries. Huge amounts of perfectly good strawberries are grown without methyl bromide in the United States every year.

What methyl bromide does for big commercial farmers is allow them to grow strawberries cheaply, side-stepping much of the hard work that traditionally comes with strawberry farming. So, in the end, the Republicans are seeking the manufacture of almost 10,000 tons of chemical weapons in the United States for the sake of convenience and big profits for corporate agriculture.

Think about this issue for a minute from the Republican point of view, and you'll see what audacious hypocrisy lies at the base of their vigorous promotion of methyl bromide. From a national security perspective, the continued manufacture of methyl bromide is a disaster just waiting to happen. Why, just imagine what a group of terrorists could do with 10,000 tons of a deadly neurotoxin like methyl bromide. Then consider that the Republicans are actually allowing these chemical weapons stockpiles to be manufactured in low security environments within the United States, and used in insecure locations across America's heartland. Under the Republicans' plan, it is no more difficult for terrorists in the United States to obtain deadly amounts of methyl bromide than it was for Timothy McVeigh to obtain the fertilizer he used to bomb the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Methyl bromide is a particularly frightening substance because its deadly effects are not only a temporary threat to human life, but also endanger life across the planet. In addition to being a neurotoxin, methyl bromide is a potent ozone-depleting chemical. When corporate farms spray methyl bromide on their strawberries, the chemical does not go away, but makes its way up into the vital ozone layer in the Earth's atmosphere, destroying the ozone there and allowing unnatural amounts of deadly ultraviolet radiation to reach the Earth's surface.

The Bush Administration's plans to increase American production of methyl bromide triggered a special emergency meeting of the nations that signed the Montreal Protocol in 1987. If the Republicans refuse to back down from their plans to manufacture more of the chemical weapons, the United States could face international trade sanctions that would devastate the American economy.

David Doniger, who directs the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate Center, warns that the Republicans' methyl bromide agenda is "risking a catastrophic breakdown of the global ozone treaty, endangering the health of millions of Americans, and exposing American businesses to as much as $10 billion per year in trade sanctions". Now, as the Republicans prepare for the increased manufacture of this weapon of mass destruction, the American people must ask themselves: Is the increased profit of agribusiness really worth the risk?

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