Saturday, February 23, 2008

Moth Spray

"I'm from the government and I'm here to help you."

The latest incarnation of this terrifying phrase is the California State Dept. of Agriculture's plan to spray the city I live in, Oakland, along with basically the entire rest of the San Francisco Bay Area, with a pesticide meant to combat the light brown apple moth. Every night this summer. And every summer for the next five years. Even though the initial spraying in Santa Cruz and Monterey last year produced hundreds of complaints about coughing, wheezing, muscle aches, eye and throat irritation, and asthma attacks.

We're doing this because the light brown apple moth "can damage" a wide range of agricultural crops and other plants. If we don't do this spraying, it'll destroy California agribusiness. The state, and the USDA, say they are trying to "head off a potential disaster."

Yeah, right. Have we got a widespread infestation of the apple moth? Well, no. They've found a few moths in about 11 counties. Does the apple moth cripple agriculture? Well, not visibly in Australia, where it originated; OK, maybe it has natural enemies there. But it's also been introduced into New Zealand, New Caledonia, the British Isles, and Hawaii. I haven't personally heard of the agricultural industry in those places being crippled by this moth; have I missed something??

Look, they propose to fly crop-dusters over the city of Oakland, at a height of 200 feet or less, and spray a chemical called CheckMate over the city (and about every other city in the Bay Area), every night, all summer. To read a professional analysis of the ingredients of CheckMate, review this article in today's San Francisco Chronicle, from Richard Fagerland, of "Ask the Bugman." It is scary. It is very scary.
The USDA says the amount of pesticide they want to use "shouldn't pose severe health risks." I'd like to know how they determine what health risks are "severe."

I'm an asthmatic; I also have eye problems due to other chronic conditions. I am seriously concerned about my health if I have to live with this crap falling out of the sky for the next five years. There are bills in the California legislature right now to block this spraying, and I think my next step is to go to my legislators' web sites and encourage them to pass those bills.

This is an attempt to protect California agribusiness at the expense of the health of the majority of the northern California urban population. Well, boys, there are more of us than there are of them, and we vote for you. Or we don't; your choice.


  1. Anonymous12:09 PM

    This is beyond disturbing, hedera. What other insects besides the apple moth does this spray kill? I've read that among the various living things, the most disastrous loss for life on earth would be the insects. Hell, maybe you guys can provide a pilot project for vita-cide.

    The myopic agrocracy rolls on, and on, and on. Maybe California's state song could be "Scarecrow's Song."

    Anonymous David

  2. David, according to the USDA, it doesn't actually kill anything. Except maybe the occasional elderly person or child with asthma.

    It's supposed to mimic the pheromones the moths use to mate, and screw up their breeding, I believe it's supposed to encourage male moths to mate with other males. (As one blogger commented, in San Francisco this shouldn't be too hard...)

    As I think I made clear, what bothers me is that (a) there isn't really an emergency, they just think there might be one if they don't act, and (b) they have no clue what effect this chemical might have on the urban population.

    Right after writing this post, I sent emails to both my state legislators, encouraging them to pass legislation to make this illegal short of a declaration of emergency by the governator, which I don't think Arnold is stupid enough to do. I hope.

  3. A few years ago, they sprayed us a couple times to head off another tiny pest moth which was threatening--I think--apples??? Anyway, no one has mentioned that in this context.

    California has been paranoid about pests for a long time. That's why they have agricultural check-stations at all major border crossings into the state. "Carrying any fruit, sir?"

    Times are changing. We know now that large-scale, organized corporate agricultural (and stock and poultry) practices are largely responsible for fostering resistant bacteria, persistent insects (and those which thrive on plenty, like locusts), as well as helping push the family farm (and ranch) into obsolescence. Part of the lie about sustainability is the fake projections done by numbers-crunchers about how much agriculture it takes to sustain given populations. It's pretty obvious that--global warming or no global warming--we're rapidly reaching critical mass with respect to stable human habitation on earth. Large unsustainable mega-agriculture (with thousands and thousands of acres given over to monoculture and pesticides and heavy chemical fertilization), doesn't look to be the "miracle" we once thought it would be, in the immediate post-war period. It has so many downsides--rather like nuclear power as presently practiced.

    If corporate agriculture wants to protect its interest(s), it had better find safer ways than to spray ever square inch of territory in an attempt to kill moths. We have to come to some kind of detente with nature that doesn't require these invasive practices.

    I try to be tolerant of necessary evils. But this spraying is sounding more and more spooky the more I learn about it.

  4. Anonymous4:38 PM

    Breathe? You want to be able to breathe, hedera? Silly you.

    Bingo, Curtis.

    Anonymous David