The Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM) is a quarantined pest in California (Hartmeier, PANNA, NRDC); growers must demonstrate their crops are free of LBAM in order to export. Conventional pesticides used against similar species of Lepidoptera have raised public concerns about associated health and environmental issues. USDA officials became interested in employing pheromones since they do not hurt humans or other non-target organisms.
USDA approached the company Suterra to develop a product for LBAM because they have a “micro encapsulation technology” which could act as an effective delivery system for the pheromone. Suterra developed a pheromone spray product called “Checkmate” and subsequently the state began pursuing a wide-spread spraying campaign.
The state severely underestimated public response to the spraying: public perception of the spray was one problem, but a second problem was concern about inert ingredients used in the products. The lack of information offered about the inert ingredients did not help the situation. In the end, responding to public pressure, the state stopped the use of the pheromone spray. Alternatives subsequently considered included Bt and pyrethroids, both known to kill non-target species, as well as sterile release programs and alternative, non-sprayed pheromones.
An article by the Natural Resources Defense Council concludes that Suterra’s Checkmate is non-toxic and generally poses little risk to human health and the environment. While they support further research to answer some questions (exposure to particulate pollution, effectiveness of eradication efforts, actual threat posed by LBAM), they believe pheromones have the potential to reduce exposure to more highly toxic chemicals.
Two important lessons from this experience:
- Inert ingredients should be designed according to green chemistry principles and ingredients made public.
- It is vitally important to conduct public dialogues about broad-scale pest management efforts, to discuss options for preventative measures and provide complete information about products being used.