The California Department of Food and Agriculture on June 19 canceled plans to spray synthetic pheromone products over California counties in an effort to eradicate the invasive light brown apple moth (LBAM).

The CDFA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which are working together on the LBAM eradication strategy, canceled the aerial spray program in part because of public opposition and in part because sterile moth production moved faster than expected, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman Larry Hawkins. “The outcry from the public certainly concerned all of us,” he says. “We never anticipated that this sterile insect release tool would come along fast enough.”

The aerial spray plan has been a lightning rod of contention since it was announced in August 2007. CDFA sprayed Monterey and Santa Cruz counties last fall and planned to spray nearly a dozen counties, including Monterey County and the San Francisco Bay area, this summer. Officials expected to repeat spraying every few months for years, inflaming public fears about the health effects of the pheromone product, which had not been thoroughly tested.

Locally, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel) and Assemblyman John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) have been pressing officials to better respond to public concerns and explore ground-based alternatives to the aerial spray program. “The public was never convinced that spraying was safe or the only option, and the results have been protests, anger and a series of lawsuits,” Farr said in a news release. “CDFA was correct to recognize that aerial application was becoming a distraction. A shift in strategy is the right move.”

Laird shared Farr's sentiments. "Today's news represents significant progress and evidence that the governor is responding to public concerns," he said in a news release.

In a June 18 letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura reported that sterile apple moths may be ready for release by 2009, compared with the five- to-seven year delivery date anticipated earlier. Sterile moths help suppress the pest's reproduction rate. The tactic has been used to battle the Mediterranean fruit fly and the pink bollworm moth.

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