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May, 2008



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Light Brown Apple Moth Aerial Spray Program:
Will US Trade Policy Again Trump Public Health?
By Larry Bragman

Fairfax Town Council:
Over the last year, our country has experienced some of the unintended consequences of free trade. From lethal dog food to toxic toothpaste, the U.S. market has been inundated with dangerous and defective products that have been imported under the guise of the global competition. American consumers have become unwitting prey in an unregulated trade jungle.
Locally, our trade commitments under the North American Free Trade Agreement have caused uproar in the Bay Area over the proposed light brown apple moth (LBAM) aerial spray program. There were 643 reports of illness in Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties after they were subjected to aerial spraying for LBAM and now the far more densely populated counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda and Marin are also scheduled for up to five years of periodic aerial spraying. Millions of local residents can expect to be exposed to the spraying despite the fact that there have been no studies of the long-term health risks of the pesticides that will be used.

The spray program, unprecedented in its scale and duration, is being promoted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). CDFA is publicly justifying its decision because of the alleged discovery of the LBAM in California. According to CDFA, this species only recently arrived in California and threatens massive economic losses to agriculture. Compelling new scientific studies establish, however, that the LBAM has likely been in California for decades and that the economic threat from the LBAM is being vastly overstated.

According to a recent study by Dr. Daniel Harder of UC Santa Cruz, completed after traveling to New Zealand where the species has been established for over 100 years, CDFA's proposed LBAM spray program will be ineffective and counterproductive. Ineffective because eradication is physically impossible and counterproductive because it will kill beneficial predator species that can and do control the LBAM. According to the Harder study, once the agricultural authorities in New Zealand stopped spraying pesticides, the LBAM was rapidly controlled by natural predators and did no further significant crop damage in that country. The LBAM has also been established in Hawaii for decades without causing significant crop damage. Recent demographic studies of the species by Dr. James Carey of UC Davis conclude that the LBAM has been in California for decades. Even CDFA concedes that there has been no documented crop damage from this creature in California.

So if there is no biological basis for conducting aerial spraying of the Bay Area, why is CDFA promoting it? What remains an issue for CDFA and California agriculture, are trade quarantines invoked by Mexico and Canada under NAFTA. On May 14, 2007, CDFA issued a 'Phytosanitary Advisory' based upon a quarantine demand from Mexico for agricultural products from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Francisco and San Mateo counties because of the LBAM. On March 11, 2008, CDFA issued a press release in which it confirmed that "...revised and expanded regulations put into place in both Canada and Mexico will make it substantially more difficult for growers in counties infested by the light brown apple certify their crops as "free from" the moth, which is a requirement for exports to be accepted in those countries."

What can be done? NAFTA does provide limited rights of appeal if there is a disagreement among the signatories. For example, the Mexican quarantine demand states that: '...the present phytosanitary conditions may be modified or harmonized whenever we have more technical and scientific information regarding E. postvittana (LBAM) as well as we receive more information about the evolution status of this pest in the United States." The Harder and Carey studies clearly constitute such technical and scientific information and should be conveyed to our trade representatives without delay. The LBAM is not a quarantine pest in Europe, nor should it be in North America.

The sovereignty, health and safety of California residents should not be subordinated to US trade policy. Instead of spraying massive quantities of an untested pesticide over the densely populated Bay Area in a futile attempt to eradicate the LBAM, Governor Schwarzenegger's administration, including the CDFA, should act quickly and decisively to end another misguided trade policy before it endangers public health.

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