Chris Mittelstaedt’s LBAM Testimony
Chairman Florz, vice-Chair Maldonado and esteemed members of the Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture – thank you for taking the time to hear testimony today about the light brown apple moth and the implications of the quarantine program.
My name is Chris Mittelstaedt and I am the founder and CEO of The FruitGuys. I founded The FruitGuys in 1998 as a way to deliver fresh fruit to offices to replace junk food and help employees eat healthy while at work. We are a privately held, family business that remains active not only in the business community but also through service work that includes donations of food to those in need, farm stewardship projects around sustainability, volunteering for organizations such as The California Taskforce on Youth and Workplace Wellness as well as ShapeUp San Francisco. As a Bay Area based business, we are advocates for locally grown produce and have followed that philosophy throughout our expansion by opening up local operations in places such as Philadelphia and Chicago so that we can source from farmers in the region by season.
Because we buy directly from many small and organic farmers in California I have been given a view of the impacts of the light brown apple moth quarantine that I would like to share with you today. 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.
Blue Moon Organics – a small organic farm in Aptos California – is a provider to FruitGuys of freshly grown strawberries. Greg Rawlings and his wife Amy are the owners and we have worked with them for a number of years. Greg is one of the farmers we work with who has been quarantined. Greg sells nearly all he grows locally – within 150 miles of Aptos.
His Ist quarantine for light brown apple moth came in late June and early July of 2009. CDFA found 20 suspected light brown apple moth larva on 3.5 acres of his 7-acre strawberry patch. At the time they told Greg that they would get back to him within 7-10 days. His product and that 3.5 acres of land were under quarantine for 3 and half weeks before CDFA officials got back to him with an answer that it was not the light brown apple moth but a native leaf roller. Strawberries are of course fragile and need to go to market immediately – especially organically grown ones. Thus during this first quarantine period, Greg not only lost his crop but also had to pay pickers to remove the berries as they came in during this time so that they would not fester and ruin his future crops. The payment to workers plus the lost revenue was significant. However, this was not the end of his story.
As the first quarantine ended, CDFA again came out and now inspected the other 3.5 acres of his strawberry patch. This was toward the end of July. In this section, they found 110 larvae and again quarantined Greg and said that they would get back to him within 7-10 days. Greg asked them why they would assume that these larvae were different from the others found just a few rows over and thus why they would quarantine him when they had just proven that he had a native, non-LBAM, leaf roller on his property. Greg did not get a sufficient answer. 25 days later – now into August and now past Greg’s June and July prime strawberry growing season, CDFA reported to Greg that again all 110 larvae were in fact native leaf rollers and thus negative for LBAM.
When Greg, exasperated, asked how he could avoid quarantine in the future, the answer he was given was that he needed to eradicate all caterpillars on his strawberries to be assured that he would not be quarantined. He was told otherwise if they find anything they will suspect LBAM and immediately quarantine.
Greg asked since they had found native leaf rollers previously would this count to any documentation of not having found LBAM and thus alleviate quarantine threat. They again said no.
As a sustainable and organic farmer, the kind we like to work with, Greg finds value in caterpillars as they provide food for the spiders, which are a benefit to Greg and his growing practices.
In total in the summer of 2009, Greg lost $40,000 in revenue and had to pay his workers to pick a 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.
Greg’s story is not unique but it is a good example of how we are hurting our local growers. I would now like to address how this policy not just hurts these local growers but also potentially benefits foreign ones and creates a damaging and unfair trade imbalance.
As an example I’d like you to think about two apple orchards – both exactly the same and both with light brown apple moth in them in equal amounts. One farmer was given a pass from the light brown apple moth quarantine and allowed to sell apples to the grocery store. The other was restricted from sales due to the quarantine. This would seem like a clear case of a policy applied arbitrarily and subjectively that benefited one farmer over another without any legal basis for doing so. What could possibly be the difference between these two farms? In this case – one is in New Zealand and the other in California.
This is exactly what is happening in our relationship with New Zealand farmers who are importing into California. In New Zealand, light brown apple moth is prevalent and farmers are not quarantined. Product can come into this country and state and be sold in our grocery stores.
However, our domestic growers. Our local growers. Our organic growers who have the most dedication and appreciation for keeping California land healthy and productive are being restricted from selling their product and earning a living by those entities that are supposed to look first after the interests of California farmers. I would imagine that as a goal, CDFA would at least want to make sure that there is a fair playing field for all — which currently as a result of this policy in regards to the domestic and international trade issue – there is not.
I know that this is a complex and contentious issue and I appreciate your openness to hearing my arguments against the quarantine and why it is bad from a business perspective for California and our farmers. Thank you all for your time.