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Prove Before Spraying

Who says that the light brown apple moth is such a big threat?

By Yannick A. Phillips

Last year, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) waltzed into Monterey and Santa Cruz counties and announced to its citizens that the government needed to spray pesticides above their homes, neighborhoods, playgrounds, businesses and schools. The CDFA had a mandate from the USDA. Not to worry, they said. The spray is safe for you, your babies, your children and your pets. The real danger, the CDFA claimed, was a moth the size of a child's pinky nail, the light brown apple moth (LBAM). The CDFA told them it was a moth of mass plant destruction.

The CDFA proceeded to spray. The people trusted. Soon after, hundreds of people reported being ill. Children experienced anaphylaxis or severe allergic reactions. Over 600 dead birds washed up on the shores of Monterey Bay. Dogs and cats accidentally left outside during the spray died. Fish in private ponds died. A thick yellow foam appeared in local streams. Bees were disoriented or completely disappeared. It might seem inconceivable that a democratic government like ours would aerially spray its people with harmful chemicals, but that did happen, right here, in our own state, supported by our own governor.

The CDFA claimed, as it still does, that all of this had nothing to do with the spray, and made plans to expand the spraying program to include Marin, San Francisco and Oakland. This time, the mothers, the children, the farmers, the business owners, the real estate sellers, the Republicans, the Democrats, the doctors, the journalists and the scientists joined together and objected. Spraying stopped.

Now the CDFA is waltzing into the town of Sonoma, telling us that they need to eradicate the LBAM. Yet according to one of New Zealand's largest wineries, "It is not a problem in viticulture at all." When we speak with experts and look at the scientific literature globally, we find the LBAM to be of little concern. We also learn that it can also never be fully eradicated.

The CDFA now wants to hang hastily EPA-approved bio-pesticide twist ties—which were not designed nor ever intended to be used in residential neighborhoods in proximity to children—on our private properties. If the CDFA decides to use twist ties, they need to inform the owners of all the facts, as were recently stated in the Protection of Citizen and Property Rights Resolution, recently passed in Sonoma on Aug. 12, 2008.

Californians have a choice. We can listen to the government assuring us that its tools are perfectly safe or we can take the wiser choice and common-sense approach by supporting Seventh District California congressman Sam Farr, who has recently filed a citizen's petition with the USDA. The USDA has the authority to downgrade the LBAM's classification, work with international trade partners to develop a classification of the LBAM that is consistent with its status as a minor pest and abort the eradication campaign. Congressman Mike Thompson, former senator Carole Migden, Sen. Mark Leno, Assemblyman Jared Huffman, Assemblyman Dave Jones, State Board of Equalization's Betty Yee and former assemblyman John Laird have all sent letters to the USDA urging the agency to evaluate this petition.

With the insect downgraded, we can then free our farmers and grape growers from the constant threat and fear of quarantines, save hundreds of millions of dollars and save our children from unnecessary health risks. I know the Sonoma community will think clearly and choose wisely.


  Sonoma resident Yannick A. Phillips is a married mother of four who recently spear-headed a successful campaign against the CDFA/USDA's LBAM eradication program in Sonoma County.

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