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Quarantine Urged to Fight Fruit Fly

November 27, 2002|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — County agricultural officials have asked the state to slap a quarantine on 6,400 acres of prime farmland in hopes of stopping the spread of the voracious Mexican fruit fly.

State, federal and county agricultural officials have set up a command post in Valley Center and are conducting a tree-by-tree inspection in northern San Diego County after finding 45 adult flies and two larvae at sites in 14 orchards. More than 15 types of fruit, including avocados, oranges, grapefruit, lemons and persimmons, worth an estimated $33 million, are within the quarantine zone.

"We're going to use every tool in the toolbox to get this thing under control," said Kathleen Thuner, agricultural commissioner for San Diego County.

Officials are hoping to identify the core zone of the infestation before calling for aerial spraying. More than 150 traps have been set, and several dozen inspectors from various agencies are inspecting groves and meeting with farmers.

County officials expect the state to invoke a quarantine within days. Under a quarantine, no fruit could be taken from Valley Center -- even from backyard trees where no fruit flies have been found -- without government approval.

Farmers could apply for permits to sell their fruit, however; those closest to the core infestation zone are likely to be restricted to selling their fruit only for juice and those farther away could sell their fruit after it has been treated.

A Mexican fruit fly quarantine would be the first in San Diego County since 1999, when a zone near Fallbrook was restricted for seven months, costing farmers an estimated $3.5 million. This time, however, larvae were found, making the discovery even more ominous, officials said. The last such discovery locally was 1954.

Although officials have yet to pinpoint how the fruit flies got to Valley Center, County Supervisor Bill Horn, who grows oranges and avocados in the infested area, laid the blame on Mexican fruit that has been imported under the North American Free Trade Agreement. He called for a "no-fly zone" of increased inspection at the border.

"We need greater vigilance [and inspection] of seemingly innocent containers of Mexican fruit, including the lunch bags of farm workers," Horn said.

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