Monday, March 10, 2008

Little moth stirs up big controversy

I got an e-mail this afternoon from Amber Dance, an intern for California public radio station KQED's science program, Quest. Amber was kind enough to share a link to a recent report on the program about efforts to eradicate the light brown apple moth in California.

We've been covering that issue rather extensively in our California edition of Capital Press, with much of that reporting coming from staff member Elizabeth Larson. As if the moth itself weren't enough of a pest, in recent months the efforts to get rid of it have gotten pesky too.

Overall, the Quest report, which originally aired Thursday, March 6, does a good job of explaining a complex and controversial issue. One part of the broadcast that's likely to draw grumbles comes near the end of the report where the light brown apple moth is compared to the Medfly. James Carey, a professor of entomology at the University of California-Davis, draws the comparison and the report cites Carey's experience related to the Medfly eradication efforts using Malathion in the 1980s. The report may give the erroneous impression that the pheromone used to disrupt the mating of the apple moth poses a similar toxicity exposure as does Malathion, which is a pesticide designed to kill -- not just confuse -- insects (click here for the pdf of the consensus statement on possible health effects of the pheromone). And, to be clear, the story does not say the pheromone poses those health risks, but it does quote people who believe the pheromone is, or could be, harmful and don't want it applied near them or their families.

One thing is for sure, this issue is stirring up controversy, and the Capital Press and other media outlets are not anywhere near done reporting about it and the views of people in agriculture and urban areas who have a stake in the outcome.

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