Thursday, January 3, 2002
Pierce's Mystery Pierced Scientists may have found a cure to the vine-killing Pierce''s disease, but growers aren''t toasting the breakthrough yet.
Advances have been made in fighting the disease threatening California''s $33 billion wine industry, including the development of grapevines genetically engineered to resist it.
But don''t worry about genetically modified chardonnay finding its way into a Monterey County wine anytime soon, says Steve McIntyre, chairman of the Pierce''s Disease Task Force for the Central Coast.
"You''re probably looking at a 20-year horizon," McIntyre says, pointing out that neither Pierce''s disease nor the glassy winged sharpshooter, the insect that spreads the bacterial disease, has been found in Monterey County. "You might be able to develop grapes that are resistant to Pierce''s disease, but you''re undoubtedly going to change other characteristics that may impact wine quality. And by then, hopefully we''ll know a lot more about GMOs."
California has spent about $10 million on research and about $40 million on efforts to combat the sharpshooter and Pierce''s disease in the last two years.
The genetically altered vines were patented by University of Florida researchers in May.
If the genes are ultimately sold, growers may decided it''s not worth the expense to switch their old vineyards over. So far, there''s no desire to plant new ones, says Amanda Robinson, executive director of the Monterey County Vinters & Growers Association.
"In the wine industry, new plants take about four years to bear fruit," Robinson says. "We''re at about 45,000 acres [of wine grapes] right now. There''s not a lot of new planting going on."
There''s also the potential cost of losing consumers, typically distrustful of genetically modified foods.
"Wines are a traditional beverage," Robinson adds. "For example, wine corks are used because it''s part of the tradition. People are looking at all these alternatives, synthetic corks, screw tops, but when it comes down to it, people enjoy opening a bottle of wine and that popping of the cork."
What''s Attorney General Bill Lockyer smoking? He recently announced that the 2001 California Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) seized 313,776 marijuana plants worth approximately $1.25 billion. But according to local pot-busters, the AG''s figures paint a hazy picture of the actual numbers of plants grown in the Golden State.
"What do you make of Santa Cruz?" asks Sheriff''s Deputy Bill Cassara, referring to Santa Cruz last-place ranking in pot plants seized, coming in at 67 plants. "I guess they just don''t have marijuana in Santa Cruz."
Monterey County ranks 19th out of 23 counties, with 3,093 plants seized. Tehama holds the dubious honor of being the county with the most buds during CAMP''s 2001 raids-54,504 plants.
However, Lockyer''s numbers only reflect plants confiscated by local officers in conjunction with state CAMP teams, Cassara explains. "These number only reflect the times when the state helps counties to harvest this stuff, with helicopters, manpower, etc., but in actuality, these guys [at the sheriff''s department] have harvested a whole lot more than that.
Which may explain why Santa Cruz, known as a pot-friendly zone, ranks so low on the list.
"Santa Cruz is loaded with homemade marijuana out there because it''s so dense," Cassara says. "And you can show anything with statistics."
Monterey County Sgt. Malcom Gray says his tabulations show that in 2001 the sheriff''s department confiscated almost twice the AG''s CAMP number. And the county''s count is even a low-ball figure, Gray says.
"As of Sept. 11, we lost all of our helicopter time, and that''s how we do our spotting." During 2000, the department picked up 10,677 illegal pot plants, he says.
"We get CAMP [assistance] maybe two weeks out of the year," Gray says. "During the rest of the year, they are on their own.
"The Santa Cruz people probably didn''t use CAMP at all. It''s my under- standing, if you ask Santa Cruz County, their numbers [of plants seized] are in the 20,000s somewhere."
During the 2001 CAMP season, law enforcement officers from more than 70 local, state and federal agencies, under the supervision of the California department of Justice Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, conducted 149 raids in 23 counties from late July through early October. Officers seized 313,776 marijuana plants, worth an estimated $1.25 billion.
About 23 percent of all plants were seized in the Central Valley, 22 percent were seized in Northern California and 16 percent were seized in the "Emerald Triangle" counties of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity.
"What would seem a more logical approach would be to take out statistics and combine them with the CAMP numbers," says Gray, putting it bluntly.