Is the Medfly Battle Really Won? : If so, we'd better focus on follow-up in the form of a pest research bill

Some $44 million later, the state stands poised to declare victory--again--over the pesky Mediterranean fruit fly. The state agricultural official who led the anti-Medfly effort says he's already devoting more time to other, more pedestrian pests like the boll weevil.

All of this calls to mind the words of Mother, upon seeing the stylish outfit you were planning to buy for the big school party: "That's nice. But is it practical?"

When it comes to the Medfly, we have to side with Mother's sentiments. It's true that experts are cautiously expressing optimism that the fruit-fly plague that has besieged most of Southern California since the summer of 1989 is almost over. Of course, state experts were optimistic in May and were proven wrong by later Medfly discoveries.

It is likely to be different this time; discoveries of the fly typically follow warm weather and the warmest is mostly behind us. But even assuming the Medfly battle is declared "won," the Department of Health Services has yet to address practical questions.

What about legislators' suggestions that the state complete a "health risk assessment" of a pesticide before it can be sprayed on urban neighborhoods? The distinction between assessing the health risk and certifying that a pesticide is safe is important; health experts emphasize that absolute safety in anything, be it a pesticide or the air we breathe, is not something that can be guaranteed. Everyone is entitled, however, to know the risks of our environment. Thus the state and county should quickly release the results of all health tests taken to measure possible effects of people in the spray area.

For the long term, a worthy bill, AB 4161, awaits the governor's signature. The bill would create a University of California Center for Pest Research that would finally and logically coordinate research and give far greater emphasis to non-pesticide methods of battling agricultural pests.

If the governor wants to help the state avoid a rerun of another Medfly/malathion panic in the future, he will sign AB 4161.

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