The nine-county San Francisco Bay Area is now on a federal quarantine list — to which Mexico has added Los Angeles and Napa counties — as state agricultural officials ponder a massive pesticide campaign to combat the light brown apple moth.
There are billions of dollars at stake, especially if the moth spreads into California’s agricultural heartland in the Central Valley.
Yet some scientists say the moth, a native of New Zealand, has already been in California for decades, and are calling for an alternative plan.
Now, amid rising controversy and protests over the aerial spraying campaign, which would repeatedly blanket whole cities, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the owner of the company that produces the moth pesticide is a major political campaign donor.
Stewart Resnick, who owns some of the largest almond, pistachio and citrus farms in the country and the world, also owns a pesticide company in Oregon that produces CheckMate, a pheromone that disrupts the moth breeding patterns.
The Chronicle notes that Resnick has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigns, including almost $150,000 to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Spokesmen for both Schwarzenegger and Resnick denied that the donations have had any impact on spraying decisions.
A CheckMate spraying campaign over Santa Cruz and Monterey counties last fall provoked hundreds of complaints from residents who said they had been sickened by the chemical.
State officials say they haven’t found evidence that CheckMate is harmful to humans, but numerous protests and petition campaigns are underway to block spraying over urban areas.
The Chronicle also reports that a number of scientists in the University of California system have questioned the pesticide plan, stating that the moth is only a minor threat in its native New Zealand, has probably been in California already for 30 to 50 years, and can be controlled by natural predators.
They say that an alternate plan would limit aerial spraying to the Central Valley, and that urban areas should stick with measures used to control gypsy moths, such as setting out pheromone-soaked “lures” to derail moth reproduction and distract them from food crops.
“Apple Moth Spray Plan Draws Capitol Protesters”
San Mateo County Times, March 11, 2008
“Pesticide maker owned by political donor”
San Francisco Chronicle, March 8, 2008
“Experts question plan to spray to fight moths”
San Francisco Chronicle, March 6, 2008
“Pesticde Fears Along California’s Central Coast”
Newsdesk.org, January 8, 2007