In my last post (Gotcha! Agroecology in action) I said I wasn’t particularly concerned about aphids in my garden, because I rely on natural predators like ladybugs to deal with the problem. Ecological controls work.

However, in the bigger picture this isn’t a small issue. California–or at least the industrial agriculture part of it, including both corporate agribusiness and the State Department of Agriculture–is in a bit of a panic because of something called the light brown apple moth (LBAM). Quite a controversy has erupted, because the State has begun spraying urban areas (that’s right, not farms, but cities) to attempt to eliminate the moth. Spraying occured last year in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties and is scheduled for all of the SF Bay Area, including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, for later this summer. The State is focusing on the issue of whether the spray is harmful to humans and pets, concluding it is not. But, the real issue is whether the spraying is even necessary at all. 

It would appear from the evidence that the State didn’t bother doing it’s homework on this issue, and has simply charged into the spraying program without answering the most basic of questions: Is the LBAM a pest worth worrying about? Noted experts seem to think not:

  • James Carey, UC Davis entomologist, believes the moth has been in California for years, likely for decades, not having become a major pest in that time.
  • Daniel Harder, Executive Director of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, and horticultural consultant Jeff Rosendale found that the LBAM isn’t a pest in New Zealand.

Unlike the State, Dr. Harder and Mr. Rosendale did their homework, actually visiting New Zealand to find out how LBAM is controlled and whether it is a problem. In their summary report (1), they wrote “There is no evidence of biological or environmental threat from LBAM in New Zealand.” Given the State’s ambitious effort to eradicate the LBAM, their findings are sobering:

  • The LBAM isn’t considered a problem in New Zealand, despite having been in that country over 100 years ago.
  • It is controlled readily using insect growth regulators (IRGs) derived from natural sources.
  • New Zealand has never attemped widespread eradication of LBAM, nor does it use the methods being used by the State of California.

I was never worried about the LBAM, even after reading initial newspaper reports of what a damaging pest it was. Despite the high number of fruit and vegetable crops I grow that were supposedly vulnerable to the LBAM, I simply assumed it wouldn’t be a major problem, due to natural predators in my garden and the fact that I don’t do large mono cropping that would support a large pest population. Based on the Harder & Rosendale report, I was right.

 It appears that the State is simply wasting taxpayer dollars to, once again, subsidize corporate agriculture. If it weren’t for the the State’s willingness to subsidize industrial agriculture by shifting the perceived risk of LBAM onto taxpayers and urban residents, this likely wouldn’t be happening at all. If it had to pay for this itself, industrial agriculture would have done its homework to see if this was really an issue. A simple cost-benefit analysis would have shown that this wasn’t worth the trouble.

Now all I worry about is the possible health effects of the sprays the state will be using this summer. Previous spraying resulted in reports of problems for those with asthma, a condition that I have. So, I do not look forward to being sprayed on some hot August night when summer temperatures require me to have my window open and my ceiling fan on.

1. Daniel Harder & Jeff Rosendale (2008). Integrated Pest Management Practices for the Light Brown Apple Moth in New Zealand: Implications for California.

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