Media Contacts: Steve Lyle, Director of Public Affairs, (916) 654-0462,
Pheromone found to be non-toxic to marine life by independent laboratory
SACRAMENTO – Following a series of in-depth discussions, the California Department of Food and Agriculture is pleased to announce a working agreement with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary for the light brown apple moth eradication project.
At a meeting last month in San Jose, the two agencies agreed to an independent laboratory test of the pheromone utilized in the project, Checkmate LBAM-F. The lab, the UC Davis Marine Pollution Studies Laboratory, has confirmed that the pheromone would not be injurious to sea life in the highly unlikely event the material reached the ocean. With that assurance in hand, the sanctuary has issued a permit to CDFA for ongoing aerial applications in the Monterey Peninsula region with buffer zones ranging from 100 to 300 meters, depending on wind speed.
“This is a significant step forward – recognition of the environmental soundness of our program,” said CDFA Secretary A.G. Kawamura. “We are fortunate to be able to collaborate with the sanctuary on our shared concern for the environmental health of the peninsula and the bay. As I’ve said before, this is the most environmentally friendly eradication project in the history of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. And it is truly the answer for environmental groups looking for alternatives to pesticides. I wish to thank our staff, the sanctuary, our partners at USDA, and the independent science community for their hard work to bring us to this point”
The next pheromone applications are scheduled to occur from October 9-12 on the Monterey Peninsula, and from November 4-9 in the North Salinas/Boronda area, the Prunedale/Royal Oaks area, and the greater Santa Cruz area.
While conventional insecticides are designed to kill insects, pheromones are designed to distract or confuse them so that they cannot breed. In nature, the pheromone is released by the female moth to attract a mate. The “scent” is undetectable to humans and is highly specific to the light brown apple moth and a couple of closely related species, so it does not affect other kinds of insects or animals. The aerial releases are intended to surround the local moth population with pheromone so that the male moths can’t locate the female moths. The moth population will decline and collapse as the rate of breeding slows and eventually subsides. The pheromone remains effective for about a month. It will not affect monarch butterflies or other endangered butterfly species in the coastal area.
The pheromone, an odorless material called Checkmate LBAM-F, has been reviewed and approved by the federal EPA and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation; and is considered acceptable for use by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The product has been registered for over a decade with no reports of any health or environmental effects. Toxicologists have stated that the pheromone shows no evidence of toxicity to people, pets or plants, and that humans are unable to react to or even recognize insect pheromones. Widely respected environmental groups also consider this approach acceptable, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Monarch Watch, and the Monterey County-based Otter Project. The product does not harm the organic certification of organic crops grown in treatment areas.
Over the past few months, Central Coast and East Bay communities have been part of a regional quarantine that has helped keep the infestation from spreading to other areas of the state. The pheromone treatments are the next step toward eradication. Pheromone releases in other infested areas will be planned as the program progresses.
The light brown apple moth is of particular concern because it can damage a wide range of crops and other plants including the Central Coast’s prized cypress as well as redwoods, oaks and many other varieties commonly found in our urban and suburban landscaping, public parks, and natural environment. The list of agricultural crops that could be damaged by this pest includes grapes, citrus, stone fruits (peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, apricots) and many others. The complete “host list” contains well over 1,000 plant species and more than 250 fruits and vegetables. The pest damages plants and crops by feeding on leaves, new shoots and fruit.