Stop the Spray

My friend Patrick Wilkinson has put together a fine video about the upcoming spraying of large parts of California in the ongoing war on the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM, pronounced el-bam).

As Patrick’s film suggests, there’d better be something mighty scary about this moth to warrant monthly aerial spraying over most of Northern California over the next five years.

So what’s the danger? Will the moth summon forth the apocalypse? No. Is it the harbinger of some strange Africanized disease? Not even. Will it ravage California’s agriculture? Kinda. But not actually by eating anything or laying anything or causing anything to be damaged.

The reason LBAM is a menace is, er, NAFTA.


As the Marin Independent Journal reports, the light brown apple moth causes devastation not because it’s an actual pest — in Hawai’i it’s considered moderately beneficial — but because it triggers a NAFTA provision that allows Mexico and Canada not to import produce that comes from LBAM affected regions.

Canada seems happy to use the right.

And that’s worrying Californian agribusiness.

Luckily, one of the affected agribusinesses, Suterra, which has given $150,000 to Governor Schwarzenegger over the past few years, has an answer. They can spray affected bits of the Great State of California with a pheromone that’ll confuse LBAM and bring a bunch of agricultural counties into compliance with NAFTA phytosanitary rules.

Of course, to make all this happen, a few other rules have to be overlooked. Like the ones that concern themselves with the safety of what gets sprayed.

The Environmental Protection Agency, helpfully deconstructed by The Onion, provided a waiver so that the pesticide could be exempted from testing requirements because of the urgency of the situation.

As the helpful wikipedia page puts it,

At an April city council meeting in the city of Alameda California, Councilmember Frank Matarresse asked CDFA Secretary Kawamura, “If this were sprayed on an open field, would farmworkers be allowed to be in the field while you are spraying?” Secretary Kawamura responded with “No.”.

Every crisis is an opportunity, of course, and with this one there’s plenty of money in this to go around. The Federal Government has committed nearly $100 million to LBAM’s eradication. The first test-spraying in Monterey (which resulted in over 600 reports of adverse health effects) cost $3.7 million, of which $3.1 million went to Suterra.

But one of the other hogs at the trough is Dynamic Aviation who are based in Bridgewater, Virginia, and who won’t just do your spraying for you, but will also attend to your intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and airborne data acquisition needs.

Yep. The agro-military-industrial complex is alive and well. Just in case you were concerned.

Luckily, there’s a big outcry. Most cities in this part of the world have decried the spraying. The governor has been forced to insist on ‘safety tests’ being carried out before the spray begins in the summer. But that’s just a temporary reprieve.

There’s a big march against them tomorrow here in San Francisco. Find out more at Stop the Spray.

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