Beware: The United States Department of Agriculture plans to drop bombs of pesticides over the Bay Area this summer. We can thank a former UC Berkeley professor for that.
After all, he discovered the culprit, the light brown apple moth (LBAM), in his back yard last March. Since then, LBAM (a native to Australia) has been reported in 11 counties throughout California. The damage of LBAM is unknown, but according to the USDA, the moth is a detriment to California’s agriculture and the nation’s economy.
We can thank industrial agriculture for that. Agribusinesses are heavily dependent on monocropping, the mass production of one single crop, which is risky when vulnerable to pests and dependent on pesticides.
We can thank globalization for that. Free trade has opened our doors to the constant exchange of cheap goods. Not to mention drugs, pollution, human rights violations, the list goes on. And all of that can be summed up in the criminal charges brought to Chiquita Banana, the U.S.-based corporation that imports our favorite yellow fruit from Central American plantations. Mix that with climate change and there’s no doubt that invasive species are frequenting this golden state.
All of this hype is about making the big buck, not the little pest. Decades ago, the United States added the light brown apple moth to NAFTA’s list of quarantine pests, meaning there would be zero tolerance for any good detected LBAM. According to agroecologist and UC Berkeley professor, Miguel Altieri, the U.S. did so in order to exclude foreign competitors. Now that the U.S. faces exclusion, the moth is a big deal.
Lucky for Stewart Resnick, the owner of the multi-billion dollar agri-corporation, Roll International, which controls Paramount Farms, the world’s largest producers of almonds, pistachios and citrus fruits. Resnick and his company will supply and make record profit from the chemicals intended for aerial spray.
Have we forgotten that pests like LBAM have always existed? Feeding on leaves of trees and plants, nectar and pollen of flowers, the light brown apple moth is nothing new of nature.
Organic farmers who’ve witnessed LBAM in action can attest to this. Rob Schultz, vineyard manager and farmer of Napa’s Oakville Ranch said that he sees the moth on a daily basis and it’s no big shock. They’re part of the natural process, Schultz said.
The problem is that we are being deceived to believe that LBAM is a huge threat, and that aerial spraying will alleviate the problem. In reality, spraying will only cause more problems. Over four hundred health reports were cited in Santa Cruz and Monterey County, where spraying began last year. There’s a huge cost to spraying, and we will pay for it not only with our wallets.
Mayor and registered nurse Robert Lieber of Albany calls the government’s spraying “weapons of mass destruction.” Altieri confirmed those sentiments when he stated that the government’s current plan to eradicate LBAM is like the “9-11 terrorist policy applied to agriculture.”
Don’t be fooled by the “greenwashing” of the term “organic,” which the California Department of Food and Agriculture calls CheckMate-F, the pesticide that will be sprayed as part of the government’s LBAM eradication plan. There’s nothing organic about chemicals.
There are better alternatives. First, we need to pass AB 2892, Assembly member Sandré Swanson’s bill that protects public rights by mandating spraying be done with consent of affected peoples, not that of big businesses who profit off the selling of pesticides and pesticide-sprayed foods, which accumulate for most of the human diet.
Instead of spending millions on another pesticide that will profit another multi-million dollar corporation, we should follow in the footsteps of Aussies who have kept the minor pest in control for more than 100 years through integrative pest management. Such alternatives incorporate research, traps and using natural predators like the non-stinging wasp. Maintaining diversity throughout plants and species in our environment will provide healthy soils and predators that naturally manage LBAM.
Research should also address why the moth is on the quarantine list. Solutions shouldn’t follow the one-solution-fits-all method of big businesses and instead adopt a system of biological farming (natural farming) that reduces farmers’ dependence on pesticides and the threat of future pests.
If there’s one thing to thank the emeritus professor of entomology, Dr. Jerry Powell, who made the public discovery of LBAM, it’s for opening the door to discussing the connections between our government and globalization, and how the two are the real pests to our agriculture.
Connie Chung is a Peace and Conflict Studies and Public Policy student at UC Berkeley.