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State to continue war on invasive moth

Scientists and environmentalists object to the use of an insecticide that some say causes illness in people. Officials say the insect threatens California's ornamental and fruit plants.

August 11, 2009|Amy Littlefield

California's Department of Food and Agriculture plans to continue efforts to eliminate an invasive moth that it says poses a risk to fruit and ornamental plants, despite protests from scientists and environmentalists who say the measures are unnecessary.

Moth detection has led to quarantines in 3,500 square miles in 15 counties, including Los Angeles, causing millions of dollars in lost revenue, said Michael Jarvis, deputy secretary for public affairs at the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

"We're doing everything we can to stop it in its tracks," Jarvis said.

Light brown apple moth caterpillars burrow into berries, rendering them inedible. Produce from areas under quarantine cannot be moved without a certificate from a county, state or federal authority saying that the product is free of the pest.

Critics say that the quarantine and other measures are too drastic, and that the state should manage the pest instead of spending millions of dollars trying to eradicate it.

"We think it's a tempest in a teapot," said Stephan Volker, an attorney who has challenged the eradication effort in court.

The state's proposed program, outlined July 31, includes use of insecticide and methods to decrease reproduction rates, including introducing sterilized male moths and using pheromones to confuse moths seeking mates.

The state Senate Food and Agricultural Committee will review the draft plan Aug. 25.

"Our committee is going to start on the assumption that we shouldn't spray and we shouldn't eradicate given the pervasiveness of the apple moth," said Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter), panel chairman.

A judge last year ordered the state to halt spraying until it had completed an environmental impact report, after hundreds of residents in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties complained of illness after aerial spraying in 2007.

The public will have until Sept. 28 to comment on the state's draft environmental impact report.

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amy.littlefield@latimes.com

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