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The Medfly Is Not The Emergency
You've Been Told It Is!

Charlotte Wagner
Founding Member, CEASE
(Coalition to End Aerial Spraying of Malathion through Education)

Agricultural, federal and state agencies insist that the medfly (short for Mediterranean Fruit Fly)attacks 250 fruits and vegetables; and that its infestation constitutes an economic emergency requiring the spraying of malathion. The medfly infestation is not an emergency situation. The potential damage to agriculture has been greatly exaggerated.

Florida officials are quoting from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and California Department of Health Services (CDHS) sources to convince your elected officials of the necessity for the aerial spraying of malathion. The following are excerpts of testimony and documented research in California concerning the medfly, from independent experts: those not employed by the State of California or agricultural interests. Their conclusions disagree with those of the State of California. CDFA's document Medfly Hosts in California, 1990 lists only 36 hosts for the medfly, not the exaggerated 250 always quoted by the State. These medfly hosts are divided into three categories:

Crops the medflies prefer.

Secondary choices

Crops that have been reported in the literature.

The medfly is a pest predominate to stone fruits: peaches and apricots. These are fruits with soft skins. Citrus is considered a secondary host. The Orange crop in Florida has already been harvested, and is not "at risk" to the medfly. Damage attributed to the medfly by agricultural interests and agencies assumes a worst-case scenario without independent corroboration of the statistics. Calling the medfly an "emergency" is simply a way to allow USDA (the lead agency) to be granted an exemption (from normal use) to spray malathion from helicopters and airplanes. This is not a regular use of malathion and only in a so-called emergency can this be allowed. If, on the other hand, the medfly was declared established two things would happen: Malathion dropped from helicopters would not be allowed under present EPA regulations, and the cost for any efforts to control the medfly (now called "medfly eradication") would be paid by the agricultural community, not by the taxpayers as is the current case in Florida. For an event to qualify as an emergency, it must be unforseen (as defined in the Emergency Services Act). The declaration of fifteen years' emergencies hardly qualify as an unforseen event! In contrast to CDFA, independent scientists' research indicates medfly outbreaks are not new infestations; rather the medfly has been established in California for years.

One independent expert is Dr. James Carey, Department of Etymology, University of California at Davis. In his paper "Establishment of the Mediterranean Fruit Fly in California" (Science, Vol. 253, September 20, 1991) and from his abstract presented at the Exotic Pest Workshop, University of California at Riverside, 1995, "The Mediterranean Fruit Fly Invasion of Southern California."

"There are two states in the US where the medfly has been detected and may be established at low levels. The first is Florida where the medfly was initially detected in the 1920's and is still detected there periodically (Rohwer 1958); the second, the State of California where it has been detected nearly every year since 1986."

"I conducted a preliminary examination of the capture data from previous years and discovered that many of the recent outbreaks were in area that had been previously infested. The results of this initial analysis cast doubt on the prevailing view that recurrent medfly outbreaks in the Los Angeles Basin were due to re-introductions."

"Multimillion dollar eradication programs were not achieving the success that had been claimed."

"Eradication success was typically declared 6 to 9 months after the outbreak was first detected even though new outbreaks frequently occurred within weeks after these declarations of success."

"The enormous difficulty of finding medfly-infested hosts along any of the pathways into the state strongly suggest that medfly introductions are rare."

"Medfly appearances in Southern California as well as in similar areas where the medfly is established are primarily in the late summer and fall months."

"All of the cities that were infested in the early 1980's were re-infested in the late 1980s."

"Six factors point toward the likelihood that the medfly is established in Southern California (1) recurrence of Medflies in the same neighborhoods over multiple years; (2) low interception rates along entry pathways; (3) lack of captures near international ports of entry ... (4) strong seasonality similar to that found in Mediterranean Europe where the pest is established (abundant in summer and fall, rare in winter and spring); (5) continual eastward movement of the infestation from the initial captures near the Pacific Coast; and (6) lack of captures in other high-risk areas of California and elsewhere (Mexico, Southern US) during the same period."

Despite this compelling information the CDFA and USDA have refused to fund research to determine if the medfly is established.

The second issue is the alleged damage the medfly can do to agriculture. Large figures of loss are often mentioned. Once again, independent scientists disagree. One such economic expert is Dr. Phil LeVeen of the University of California, Berkeley. In his testimony to the California Legislative Assembly in 1990 Dr. LeVeen states (CDFA relies on two studies to substantiate the damage of the medfly Dr. LeVeen addresses this):

"Since CDFA officials do justify the spraying on the basis of enormous potential economic harm the pest could pose to California's agriculture and assert that it is the only viable option to achieve this goal, one would assume that in deciding to proceed with the program, these officials must be operating on the basis of conclusive scientific evidence that both documents these potential agricultural costs averted by the spraying program and the comparative efficacy of aerial spraying versus other methods of control or eradication. In fact, no such evidence exists; the one document CDFA officials rely upon to document the costs of the medfly is so seriously flawed that its conclusions regarding the medfly's impact on agriculture are essentially worthless."

"The data from the 1980/1981 medfly infestation provided by the study indicates, however that the vast majority of medfly damage was to stone fruits, like peaches and apricots .."

"Even more revealing is that in 1980/81 there were no medflies reported in grapes, strawberries, or in tomatoes, all supposedly host crops …"

"Citrus, especially oranges and lemons are also marginal hosts to the medfly; such crops provide about 22% of the value of all listed host crops, but only 12% of all medfly finds were in this category."

"There is no strong empirical evidence that supports the contention that the medfly poses large economic threat to agriculture".

"The CDFA study fails because it employs a series of extreme assumptions without a coherent justification for them."

"The CDFA study is also premised on flawed economic reasoning as well."

"In estimating direct costs of the medfly. The CDFA study assumes that if the pest were established statewide, all host crops would suffer a 7.5% crop loss. The estimated losses of 7.5% for all crops is not based on empirical evidence from the actual experience of other regions of the world that have the medfly."

"… speculation that the established medfly will survive in sufficient numbers to cause 5% yield losses and an additional 2.5% losses in damaged fruit. To put this estimate in perspective, current pest losses from all the pests in California generally do not exceed 13% of yields; therefore the CDFA study ascribes to this one additional pest a 60% increase in crop damage: this is a large impact from one pest."

"The mere presence of the pest does not mean that it can substantially harm production. The pest must be present in large population densities."

"Some entomologists believe that the medfly may well already be established in urban regions and survives at low population densities that are two small for our monitoring traps to detect." "By making the one extreme scenario the entire basis for its analysis the CDFA study implicitly assigns a 100% probability of this extreme level of infestation and damage."

"The CDFA study is not providing critical information to decision makers..."

"The second major failing of the CDFA study is its failure to examine any alternative to aerial spraying as a control for the medfly."

"Therefore, the decision-maker is left with an 'either-or' proposition - either eradicate or face massive damage - that is not an accurate description of the true alternatives we face. This 'either or' approach effectively says that there are no options and makes the decision not to use aerial spraying appear to be one of total abandonment of the goal of control."

"'Eradication' will be paid for by the public while the cost of 'management' of an established population must be paid, at least in part, by the agricultural industry. These incentives create very powerful incentives for agricultural bureaucrats,urged on by their agricultural clients, to insist that we must eradicate the pest,even when the evidence mounts that this is not feasible."

Refer to the transcript of the Legislative Briefing on this site to read more about the medfly being established and the true economic impact to agriculture.

Why are urban areas being sprayed for an agricultural pest? A pest many etymologists say is already established. Who benefits? Why has research to determine whether the medfly is established not been funded? Why are there no other options offered than aerial spraying of malathion? - despite the 15 years of this "emergency" program. Why is no research being currently done to provide data for the number and location and patterns of medfly establishment in Florida along the lines of Dr. Carey's medfly research in California?

In conclusion: Florida is being sprayed because an "emergency" exemption has been granted to the USDA from the EPA. If the medfly is established there would be no "emergency" and no malathion spraying from helicopters and planes. The USDA has applied to the EPA for a Section 3, where malathion can be sprayed from helicopters for 11 times on populated areas as a regular use of
malathion. This cannot be allowed.

Malathion is currently undergoing re-registration. One of the studies required is malathion's relationship with cancer. Why is the aerial spraying of malathion being allowed when there are data
gaps in the required studies.

Florida officials need to be held accountable!


Officials determine the EPA-status of the USDA's Section 3 to change the use of malathion.

Studies to show if the medfly is established.

Independent economic studies of the true cost to agriculture.

Research to determine Medfly Infestation Patterns in Florida

Final results of EPA-required studies of malathion's and malaoxon's relationships with cancer.

A public forum where independent doctors and scientists can testify to the various issues: health effects, agricultural economics, etymology of the medfly, etc.

Dr. LeVeen:

"Given the frequency of medfly invasions over the past fifteen years,one might have anticipated that the State [California] would have spent more for research indicating the true economic and biological impacts on agriculture,not to mention the possible long-term and short-term effects of malathion on human health. The point remains, this research has not been done, and therefore we are operating under conditions of considerable uncertainty. Until the research is done the program should be stopped. It is time to balance the equation - comparing a worst case scenario for agricultural damage with a best case scenario for the spraying urban areas is unacceptable public policy."