Despite public outcry, the state agriculture department is determined to use a controversial aerial spray to eradicate the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM).
Spraying began in September and will resume in June in the Monterey-Santa Cruz area; in August, the California Depart-ment of Food and Agriculture plans to begin spraying in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The program will continue until the moth is eradicated, the CDFA says.
At this point it looks like the CDFA is holding all the high cards: The law gives the department the power to declare an emergency and then to spray without public input. And the CDFA’s got $75 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the program.
Given the CDFA’s $500,000 budget for a New York public relations firm to “educate” the populace on spray benefits, and the potential for the influence of political contributions from the heavy spender who owns the company that makes the spray in question, it appears that citizen groups are playing against a stacked deck.
Nevertheless, that’s what they are attempting: More than 17 organizations are on the record opposing the spray, and a growing number of city councils and legislators are joining a rising public tide, questioning both the need for the spraying and the resultant health impacts.
“The only way we can stop this aerial spray program is if the people of the Bay Area stand up in a united way,” Nan Wishner, chair of Albany’s Integrated Pest Management Committee, told the Planet.
Albany passed a resolution opposing the aerial spray last month. Santa Cruz did the same several months ago.
The California Alliance to Stop the Spraying, Pesticide Watch and others are calling a “Townhall Meeting to Stop Planned Aerial Spraying of Pesticides in Berkeley” for Sunday, Feb. 24, 5-7 p.m. at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St.
And at Tuesday’s Berkeley City Council meeting, Councilmember Dona Spring will ask her council colleagues to approve a resolution stating their opposition to the spray and seeking a court injunction to stop it. At the same meeting, representatives from the state will speak on the question and a group opposing the spray, organized by the Alameda Green Party, will have equal time to speak against the spray.
Members of the public will have one minute each to state their opinions. The meeting begins at 7 p.m., at the Maudelle Shirek Building, 2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. There is no exact time scheduled for the spray question.
Also Tuesday, at the 7:30 p.m. Oakland Public Safety Committee meeting at Oakland City Hall, Councilmembers Jane Brunner and Larry Reid will introduce a resolution opposing the spray, which, if approved in committee, will go before the full Oakland council in two weeks.
At issue is the Light Brown Apple Moth, a pest that feeds on some 2,000 host plants and therefore is able to spread rapidly. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) fears the pest will hurt California’s billion dollar agriculture industry, al-though, by the department’s own admission, there is no sign that the infestation has caused significant crop damage.
There is also fear that other states and countries will refuse exports of California agricultural products, due to the infestation. “We have obligations to our trading partners,” said CDFA Secretary A.G. Kawamura, speaking in a hearing on the question in San Rafael last week. We need “to show we’re moving forward.”
Kawamura added a warning: “The federal government is saying that California must eradicate or they will,” he said.
The CDFA responded to the fear of crop damage by declaring an emergency in nine counties, including Monterey, Santa Cruz, Marin, San Francisco, Contra Costa and Alameda. The declaration in each county means that the CDFA is free to conduct an aerial spray program before undertaking an environmental study to assess risks and alternatives.
Spraying was conducted in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties in September, after which there were more than 600 complaints that included skin rashes, nausea, diarrhea and more.
This is the first instance in which this product, CheckMate, made by Suterra of North Bend, Oregon, has been sprayed over an urban center.
The state is just beginning its environmental impact report (EIR) process, which will be completed in six-to-eight months, according to CDFA officials. Feb. 26—the same day the resolutions will be introduced in Berkeley and Oakland—there will be a scoping session at the Elihu Harris State Building, 1515 Clay St., Oakland, 6-8:30 p.m. at which time the public can give input on the question.
“It’s not unusual to conduct the EIR while doing the eradication,” Kawamura told the Assembly Committee. (A video of the San Rafael hearing is available at http://marin.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=21&clip_id=2856)
The Planet asked CDFA spokesperson Steve Lyle if it didn’t make more sense to do the environmental study before spraying. It’s allowed in an emergency, Lyle said, noting, “That’s the law.”
While CDFA materials say: “There is no human or animal health risk from exposure to the pheromones treatment,” testimony in a lawsuit brought by Santa Cruz County says there have been no studies that would lead one to that conclusion.
“No chronic toxicity study of CheckMate has been conducted,” writes Richard Philp, emeritus professor of pharmacology and toxicology with the University of Western Ontario, in testimony to the court in the lawsuit brought against the CDFA by Santa Cruz County. (The complaint, filed in October, is pending.)
“One cannot conclude from these studies that CheckMate is a safe product to aerial spray over an urban population, nor can one guarantee that longer-term repeated exposures on humans are without risk,” Philp writes.
He concludes: “In my opinion, since the decision to use aerial spraying as the method of application appears to have been made entirely on economic grounds, the decision should be revised, given the lack of adequate evidence for its safety in the long term.”
The product that is sprayed is made up of synthetic pheromones and other chemicals encased in microscopic plastic capsules. A pheromone is a scent emitted by female moths which stimulates males to mate. The synthetic scent is intended to confuse the male moth and eradicate the LBAM by interrupting its reproductive cycle.
Steve Lyle, spokesperson for the CDFA, says that this method of eradication is what environmentalists want since no moths are directly killed by a toxic substance in the program.
Spray opponents, however, say that they are concerned that harmful toxins are used along with the pheromones in the CheckMate spray and that the microcapsules are dangerous when inhaled.
Lyle is getting some help to explain the department’s position. The CDFA has hired New York-based Porter Novelli, a public-relations firm, “to help with outreach … trying to educate people on the safety of the use of pheromones,” Lyle said. The contract is for $497,500.
The $75 million program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It may be instructive to take a look at the company that makes the spray, although one cannot conclude with certainty that the company influenced the CDFA.
CheckMate is produced by Suterra, LLC, owned by billionaire Stewart Resnick of Beverly Hills.
With his wife, Lynda Rae, Resnick owns Paramount Farming, which specializes in production of pistachios, almonds and pomegranates and claims to be the world’s largest pistachio processor. Paramount Farming owns Paramount Citrus, “the largest fully integrated grower, picker, shipper and marketer of fresh citrus in North America,” according to the company website.
Resnick also owns the Del Rey Juice Company, in Del Rey, Calif., which produces frozen juices; he owns Teleflora, a world-wide cut-flower delivery business, Franklin Mint, a company that markets collectibles and Fuji Water. The parent company is Roll International.
Resnick is known as a “major donor” in campaign finance lingo. In the last governor’s race he contributed $144,000 to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the last year he’s contributed between $1,000 and $3,000 to each of the members of the Assembly Agriculture committee.
Schwarzenegger’s spokesperson Rachel Cameron told the Planet that the “governor has confidence in the CDFA and the science behind the pheromones. He believes it is safe.”
Asked if the $144,000 contribution would have influenced the governor’s view of the product, Schwarzenegger’s political spokesperson Julie Soderland said, “The governor makes all his policy decisions based on the best interests of the people of California.”
Lyle told the Daily Planet that political contributions bear no weight on the selection of CheckMate. He said CheckMate was the choice of the USDA and that “the process is driven by sound science.”
Resnick spokesperson Rob Six told the Planet: “We don’t talk about our political contributions.”
State legislators weigh in
State Sen. Carole Migden is introducing a bill for a moratorium on aerial spraying that would be limited to the counties of San Francisco and Marin.
And Assemblymember Loni Hancock’s spokesperson says she will introduce a package of resolutions aimed not only at declaring a moratorium on spraying in all the affected communities, but also at clarifying who can declare an emergency.
“The administration can declare an emergency without consultation,” said Hans Hemann, Hancock spokesperson. “Hancock thinks the governor should do this.”
Hemann underscored that any resolution on a moratorium that is approved by the state legislature would be advisory only; any change in the power to declare an emergency approved by legislators would not take effect until January 2009.