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Davis, California

Monday, July 26, 2021

Environmentalists sue over moth eradication program

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is facing a lawsuit from two environmental groups over its program to eradicate the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM).

The plaintiffs, Pesticide Watch and Davis-based Better Urban Green Strategies, are concerned about potential side effects of the pheromones used to eliminate the moths.

The CDFA program uses nine-inch twist ties that are attached to tree branches and other objects. The twist ties emit mating pheromones that flood an area, confusing male moths and preventing them from mating.

The moth originated from New Zealand and was first detected in California in 2007. It has a 2,000-plant host range and feeds on 250 different agricultural crops including apples and blueberries. Davis is currently on the fringe of the infested area.

Northern California Community Organizer for Pesticide Watch, Elizabeth Martin-Craig, is concerned that the pheromones, known to be toxic to aquatic life, have not been tested for long-term human exposure.

“We are hoping to hold up the LBAM eradication program until the Environmental Impact Report is released, which will be coming out within the next couple months,” Craig said. “We want to make sure the CDFA goes through the proper procedures that the California Environmental Quality Act sets forth.”

Director of Public Relations for the CDFA, Steve Lyle, could not comment on the lawsuit, but stated no harmful effects have been observed from the pheromones.

“The pheromones don’t hurt the moth; they just confuse it so it can’t mate,” Lyle said. “This is a safe application of a pesticide – no contact occurs between people and twist ties.”

Craig disagreed.

“These twist ties can easily fall to the ground where the pesticide can be contacted or ingested by children, pets and other animals,” Craig said.

In 2008 the moth had infested nine counties, but that has now expanded to 12. The eradication program is now in effect in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Mateo, Los Angeles, Alameda, San Joaquin, Napa, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Marin, Santa Clara and Solano counties, with no negative consequences, according to Lyle.

UCD Entomology Professor James Carey said he has little faith in the program’s chances of working.

“It is a lost cause,” Carey said. “There was never any chance to eradicate even when the LBAM was first detected several years ago. It’s simply too widespread and no tools are even close to being adequate for eradication.”

Carey helped write and sign a declaration on the impossibility of the moth’s eradication. The fiscal impact of the program was also a major concern for Carey.

“Among other things, this program is costing $75-100 million of taxpayer’s money and has no chance of working,” he said.

In addition to the pheromones the twist ties contain several undisclosed inert ingredients. This presents a concern to Craig because their safety on humans has not been tested.

“Inerts can be as dangerous as the active ingredient in a pesticide, but are labeled inert because they are not targeting the specific pest in question,” Craig said.  “Sometimes inerts in one product can be the active ingredient in another.”

The CDFA faced a lawsuit in 2008 when it tried to use aerial sprays to eliminate the moth in Monterey and Santa Cruz and people complained of asthma attacks.

“We’re concerned the CDFA isn’t looking holistically at the problem of invasive pests and instead is having a knee jerk reaction, of spray first ask questions later,” Craig said. “We believe that we should be asking questions first, and using chemical controls as a last resort.”

JANE TEIXEIRA can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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