Will US trade policy again trump public health?
Marinij | 03/27/2008
Will U.S. trade policy again trump public health?
OVER THE PAST YEAR, our country has experienced some of the unintended consequences of free trade. From lethal dog food to toxic toothpaste, the U.S. market has been inundated with dangerous and defective products that have been imported under the guise of the global competition. American consumers have become unwitting prey in an unregulated trade jungle.
The Bay Area has been in an uproar over the proposed light brown apple moth program, which involves aerial spraying of an untested synthetic pheromone-based pesticide. There have been no tests of its toxicity. The state Department of Food and Agriculture is justifying its decision to spray because of the discovery of the light brown apple moth. According to the state, the moth recently arrived in California and threatens massive economic losses to agriculture. Compelling new scientific studies indicate that the apple moth likely has been here for decades and the economic threat from the moth is being vastly overstated.
According to a study by Daniel Harder of University of California at Santa Cruz, done after traveling to New Zealand, the country of the light brown apple moth’s origination, California’s spraying program will be ineffective and counterproductive. Ineffective because eradication is physically impossible and counterproductive because it will kill beneficial predator species that can and do control the moth.
According to the Harder study, once agricultural authorities in New Zealand stopped spraying pesticides, the moth was controlled by natural predators and did no further significant crop damage there. Recent demographic studies of the species by James Carey of UC Davis conclude that the apple moth has been in California for decades. Even state agriculture officials concede that there has been no documented crop damage from this moth in California.
So if there is no biological basis for conducting aerial spraying of the Bay Area, why is the state promoting it? What remains an issue for state agriculture officials and California agriculture are trade quarantines invoked by Mexico and Canada under the North American Free Trade Act.
On May 14, 2007, the state issued a "Phytosanitary Advisory" based upon a quarantine demand from Mexico for agricultural products from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Francisco and San Mateo counties because of the light brown apple moth. On March 11, the state issued a press release in which it confirmed that "revised and expanded regulations put into place in both Canada and Mexico will make it substantially more difficult for growers in counties infested by the light brown apple moth to certify their crops as ’free from’ the moth, which is a requirement for exports to be accepted in those countries."
What can be done?
NAFTA does provide limited rights of appeal if there is a disagreement among the signatories. It is significant to note, for example, that Mexican quarantine demand states that: "The present phytosanitary conditions may be modified or harmonized whenever we have more technical and scientific information regarding E. postvittana (LBAM) as well as we receive more information about the evolution status of this pest in the United States." The Harder and Carey studies constitute such technical and scientific information and should be conveyed to our trade representatives without delay. The moth is not a quarantine pest in Europe, nor should it be in North America. If the NAFTA quarantine demands are withdrawn, California farmers will not face significant economic losses from this moth. The health and safety of residents should not be subordinated to U.S. trade policy.
Instead of spraying an untested pesticide over the densely populated Bay Area in a futile attempt to eradicate the apple moth, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s administration, including the state Department of Food and Agriculture, should act quickly and decisively to end another misguided trade policy before it endangers public health.
Larry Bragman is a member of the Fairfax Town Council.