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International Environmental Group Reviews Methyl Bromide Use by NC Country Ham Producers

July 06, 2007

Media Contact: Dr. Dana Hanson, Assistant Professor of Food Science and North Carolina Cooperative Extension meat specialist, North Carolina State University, 919.515.2958, dana_hanson@ncsu.edu

Larry Pierce of Nahunta Pork Center knows that curing the perfect country ham requires patience, skill and a lot of attention. So when a group of scientists and consultants from the Methyl Bromide Technical Options Committee (MBTOC) wanted to learn what it takes to produce a country ham, Dr. Dana J. Hanson, a North Carolina Cooperative Extension meat specialist at North Carolina State University, took the committee to Nahunta for a tour.

MBTOC is a subcommittee of the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Technical and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP), part of the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances. The committee visited North Carolina July 2 to learn more about methyl bromide use in the country ham industry.

The earth's ozone layer helps protect the planet from ultraviolet light. Ozone depletion is expected to increase ultraviolet exposure, which can increase skin cancer, damage plants and reduce ocean plankton populations.

Since most country ham producers must use methyl bromide to control pests in curing houses, they have received critical use exemptions (CUE) under the Montreal Protocol. This international agreement phased out methyl bromide in 2005 in developing countries except where there is no technical and economically feasible alternative. To qualify for exemption status, producers must show that they are attempting to transition away from methyl bromide.

Hanson, who began surveying methyl bromide use among country ham producers in 2006, said MBTOC knew so little about the country ham industry that they accepted the industry's CUE applications in 2005 and 2006 without recommending alternative pest control methods. This year, however, they decided it was time to learn more about why the chemical application is necessary.

Committee members contacted Environmental Protection Agency entomologist Colwell Cook to arrange a tour of the country ham industry and a conference call with scientists, including Hanson. Since North Carolina is the primary country ham producer in the country, Cook worked with Hanson to arrange a visit to two Eastern North Carolina pork producers - Nahunta Pork Center and Wayco Hams in Goldsboro - and with the Southern Region IPM Center, which is located in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State University, to coordinate a conference call with Hanson's colleagues, scientists at Mississippi State University, the University of Kentucky and University of Kansas.

Hanson provided the committee, which includes members from the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, Somalia and other counties, with information from the 2006 survey of country ham producers. Sixty-five percent of the producers responding to the survey said they need methyl bromide to control mites.

Hanson and other scientists have begun laboratory trials on several alternatives, including sulfuryl fluoride, phosphine and ozone; however, trials with sulfuryl fluoride have not been promising.

There are only six states in which meat processors make country ham: North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Virginia and Tennessee.

Hanson said the longer the curing process takes, the more likely a producer is to find mites in a curing house. Producers have few alternatives to methyl bromide, Hanson added, and most producers need three to five methyl bromide applications to prevent mite infestations, no matter what other prevention strategies they use, from intense sanitation practices to sealing crevices.

MBTOC members will use what they learned during their North Carolina tour to make recommendations on methyl bromide use in the country ham industry.

Written by:
Rosemary Hallberg, Communication Specialist, Southern Region IPM Center, 919.513.8182 or rhallberg@ncsu.edu

Posted by Dave at July 6, 2007 11:07 AM