In March, California held senate hearings on the status of the state’s eradication program for the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM). FruitGuys founder and CEO Chris Mittelstaedt testified in defense of small family farmers whose farms have been hurt by the current California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) practice to quarantine farms and sale of their produce whenever any caterpillar, LBAM or not, is found on the property until it is identified. Mittelstaedt asked why apples from New Zealand, where the moth is also present, are allowed to be sold in the U.S. while California farmers, who may or may not have the moth present, are not allowed to sell theirs under the quarantine rules.
“I draw two main conclusions from observing and talking with the small farmers that we work with. The first, as you will hear, is that it is truly the quarantine and not the moth that is most damaging to small California farmers. The second, as I will explain, is that the light brown apple moth quarantine is inadvertently creating international trade policy that benefits international farmers importing product from countries that do not quarantine for the light brown apple moth over our own local, California growers who are having to exist under the terms of this quarantine,” Mittelstaedt testified March 23, 2010.
The LBAM is native to Australia where it reportedly has not posed a risk to agriculture and is kept in check by natural predators. It has spread to New Zealand, Hawaii, and California. The LBAM is a “leaf-roller” which feeds off of the leaves of grape vines and fruit trees. There is disagreement between state officials and farmers as to the damage the moth can cause, with farmers saying there is none to the fruit itself.
Chris told the story of Blue Moon Organics, a family-run strawberry farm in Aptos, CA, which was quarantined twice during the summer of 2009 by the CDFA. Both times the caterpillar and larvae found turned out to be native leaf rollers and not LBAM. “In total … Greg lost $40,000 in revenue and had to pay his workers to pick crop that was thrown away. He is still trying to recover from a year that includes this unexpected economic damaged suffered from a quarantine that wasted his time and money as well as the taxpayers for a moth that, according to Greg and other farmers we work with as well as scientists both here and abroad, this is not a threat to farmer’s crop what so ever,” he said.
The FruitGuys has been following the LBAM controversy since the moth was first confirmed in California in 2007. Currently 13 counties in north and central California, including urban San Francisco, are under LBAM quarantine from the state, which is completing an environmental impact report regarding plans to eradicate the moth.
- Pia Hinckle