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Emeryville, El Cerrito Say No To Apple Moth Spray Plan

By Judith Scherr
Friday March 21, 2008

Berkeley May Sue State of California 


A movement among cities to challenge the state Department of Food and Agriculture plan to spray the Bay Area in an effort to eradicate the light brown apple moth (LBAM) is mushrooming, with Emeryville and El Cerrito joining the fight this week and with a possible lawsuit spearheaded by the city of Berkeley, proposed by Acting City Attorney Zach Cowan. 

Meanwhile, a state scientist and UC scientist have begun a war of words, publishing dueling opinions on the spray question. 

On Monday and Tuesday, respectively, the El Cerrito and Emeryville city councils joined Berkeley, Albany and Oakland in their opposition to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) plan to spray the Bay Area in August. City attorneys in these cities have been authorized by their city councils to discuss legal options among themselves to stop the spray. 

The city attorney has placed an item on Tuesday’s City Council agenda asking the body “to file a lawsuit to enjoin aerial spraying to eradicate the Light Brown Apple Moth in the Bay Area….” Cowan told the Planet he has had conversations on the question with Oakland’s city attorney. 

In Marin County, the cities of Fairfax, Mill Valley, Corte Madera and San Anselmo have taken positions opposing the spray, but to date are not considering legal options. Sausalito will vote next week on the question of opposing the spray. 

At issue is the aerial spraying of a product whose main ingredient is a synthetic pheromone, designed to confuse male LBAMs in search of females, interrupt the reproductive cycle and eventually eradicate the non-native pest. The product, CheckMate, contains other chemicals—both known and undisclosed—that have caused concern. Moreover, in order to spray the pheromone, CheckMate is contained within microcapsules that critics say can be ingested and cause respiratory problems. 

After CDFA sprayed CheckMate over Monterey and Santa Cruz counties in September, more than 600 people reported adverse health impacts, such as nausea, vomiting and itchy skin. The CDFA plans to spray these counties again in June. Santa Cruz County has a lawsuit pending in an attempt to stop the spray. 

The state says spraying is necessary to avoid future massive crop damage—to date none has been reported—and to avoid restrictions being placed on California’s produce and cut flower sales to other states and countries. 

Speaking to the Planet Wednesday, Emeryville Mayor Ken Bukowski said he became especially concerned about the aerial spray plan when the Alameda County Conference of Mayors heard a speaker from the Water Resources Board, who said the spray could further pollute the San Francisco Bay. 

Bukowski said he plans to bring a resolution opposing the spray to the next mayors’ meeting in April. 

The controversy further heated up this week when Primary State Entomologist Kevin Hoffman issued a report contradicting a study by Daniel Herder, a UC Santa Cruz Adjunct Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and director of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, and Jeff Rosendale, horticultural consultant. The study concludes that spraying to eradicate the moth is ineffective and ill advised. 

Hoffman says neither Herder nor Rosendale is an entomologist and they are therefore unqualified to speak on the question.  

He further says that the sources the pair cite were not studies but conversations, and therefore invalid. 

In the March 6 Herder-Rosendale study, “Integrated Pest Management Practices for the Light Brown Apple Moth in New Zealand: Implications for California,” the authors claim that it is not the serious problem that the state has alleged it is, and they point to the case of New Zealand, where the moth has been established for 100 years. 

In New Zealand, “natural predators keep LBAM in check, and it is so rare in the wild that it requires a true expert and meticulous searching to even find any sign of it,” the Herder-Rosendale study says. 

Hoffman, however, told the Planet in a phone interview Tuesday that New Zealand brought in non-native predators to attack the LBAM and that they have become destructive to the environment.  

In a response issued Thursday, however, Herder and Rosendale argue that they were not talking about importing non-native predators to California, but encouraging those native to the state. “A wide variety of potential enemies for control of LBAM are already present in California,” Harder-Rosendale say. 

The question of whether there are natural predators in California that would attack the LBAM is undetermined, Hoffman said, pointing to the case of the gypsy moth, also a non-native pest. “None of the native parasites moved over to [attack] it,” he said. 

Hoffman said the two authors were unable to find the moth in the wild during their trip to New Zealand because they lacked expertise. “Neither of the authors are entomologists, so their assertion that they had great difficulty finding LBAM could just as easily be from their lack of expertise at finding caterpillars as from the assumed lack of LBAM,” he wrote. 

Hoffman argued that the Herder-Rosendale study “displays a lack of understanding about the purpose of classifying LBAM as a regulated pest and the necessity of implementing actions to restrict its movement.” 

And, Hoffman said, the “financial and environmental costs associated with implementing those practices … are not addressed in the report.” 

In their response, however, Herder-Rosendale, shot back: “[T]he real costs at issue in CDFA’s current LBAM strategy [are] the costs to human health and the environment of a multi-year or indefinite campaign of regular aerial spraying of populated areas.” 

One more organization to speak out in opposition to the spray is the Organic Certification Trade Association. 

A March 10 statement from the organization says it supports ground applications of pheromones “and other ecologically sound organic integrated pest management approaches … . However, [the organization] does not endorse further aerial applications of pheromones in LBAM eradication efforts due to potential human health and environmental concerns.”