Operation pest patrol: A threat from within | KALW

Operation pest patrol: A threat from within

Dec 18, 2018

Operation pest patrol, Part II: An insect spreading a deadly citrus disease threatens to wipe out California’s commercial citrus industry. But environmentalists say, we’ve seen this headline before and what it really means is using a whole lot of pesticides.

Listen to Part I and Part III of the series.

Patty Tran goes door to door in Los Angeles, looking for an insect that could carry a deadly citrus disease. She’s an environmental scientist for the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Tran and her co-workers’ mission is to try and contain and eradicate the disease in the backyards of Southern California, so it doesn’t spread to commercial citrus farms.

This disease already wiped out half of Florida’s citrus industry. If it does manage to spread within California, where half of the country’s fresh oranges, lemons, and mandarins are grown, it could completely change the citrus industry altogether in the United States.

The headline 'Tiny bug threatens to destroy California’s agriculture' is one Californians have seen before. In the 1980s, the state feared a take-over of the Mediterranean Fruit Fly, a tiny fly native to Africa that can infest produce. In 2007, when a local entomologist found a Light Brown Apple Moth in his backyard, the state feared its caterpillars would destroy California’s strawberry farms. And there have been other insect scares.

California Department of Food and Agricultulture says their agency needs to act fast when they find one of these bugs. But environmentalists like Nan Wishner from the California Environmental Health Initiative say the state is too quick to spray pesticides before considering the potential environmental and health consequences.