Apple Moth Update

Don’t you just love how the State of California, which doesn’t have enough money to fix its roads, maintain its schools, or keep its State Parks open, can still find the cash to fly around in planes spraying untested chemicals on you and your property and can even find a little more of your tax money to use to pay people to lie to you about it?

You don’t love it? Well, apparently, you’re not alone. It’s been several weeks since we last discussed the light brown apple moth and there’ve been some new developments – none particularly promising for the California Department of Agriculture’s spraying program.

First, the big $497,000 no-bid contract that was awarded to PR firm, Porter Novelli (a company that, probably not coincidentally, is pretty well connected with Governor Schwarzenegger) has been suspended. Good idea, since a bunch of PR double-talk isn’t likely to satisfy a public that has real concerns and wants real answers. But that’s not why the contract was suspended.

The contract was suspended because the usual bidding process is only supposed to be bypassed in emergency situations. Most legislators and officials seem to think this means things like contracts to provide relief to victims of major fires, floods and earthquakes. They don’t seem to think that PR “emergencies” qualify. Details, details….

It’s just as well though, since whatever Porter Novelli has been doing with our money since they landed the contract last November, it hasn’t been gaining much traction. Instead, the press (special thanks to the Monterey County Herald for particularly thorough coverage) has been flooded with stories debunking the idea that the light brown apple moth poses a serious threat to California’s agriculture or environment.

The main points seem to be:

1) The moth is not a serious pest in countries where it is already well established;

2) There are already something like 85 species of similar moths here that are well controlled by natural predators;

3) While it is possible that the light brown apple moth might prove to be bigger problem than the 85 similar moths we already have, there isn’t any real reason to believe that it will be;

4) Evidence is emerging that the light brown apple moth may have been here much longer (50 years?) than previously thought – suggesting that it is already being adequately controlled by natural predators.

But, as we discussed last month, fear of crop damage was never what this spraying program was about. Avoiding restrictions on the export of our produce was the issue from the start.

And that leaves the Dept. of Ag in a pretty tight bind. Because we ourselves declared the light brown apple moth a serious pest (back before we knew we had it), the Dept. of Ag is now under pressure to put some kind of “eradication” program in place to minimize the extent to which we’re going to be subjected to the kinds of export restrictions we’ve imposed on others who have the moth. But how can the Dept. of Ag tell people they’re going to spray them and their property with an untested chemical compound just because they need to put on a show for our international trading partners? They can’t.

So, instead, they attempt to justify a massive, multi-year spraying campaign by exaggerating the danger to crops, home gardens and the environment posed by the moth. Then, when the public calls their bluff by asking to see the science behind the assertions, they panic and call for emergency PR help. And now that blows up in their faces too, as pointy-headed bureaucrats from the State Contracts Office get all nitpicky about the definition of “emergency.”

Perhaps it’s time to simply acknowledge that we have joined Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, the U.K. and Hawaii as a homeland for the light brown apple moth – acknowledge it and move on to negotiating with our trading partners on the basis of science and common sense. Here at Xasáuan Today, we have a strong suspicion that our trading partners were never going to be impressed with a pseudo-scientific “eradication”program, anyway.

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