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Date:  Sept. 14, 2009

Contacts:  Jennifer Walsh, Media Relations Officer

Alison Burnette, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

 

for immediate release

 

Classifying Light Brown Apple Moth for Eradication, Quarantine Is Justifiable

In Draft Response by APHIS to Petitioners

 

WASHINGTON -- A new report from the National Research Council finds that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is within its broad regulatory authority to classify California's invasive Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM) as an "actionable" pest, which the agency asserted in a draft response document to two petitions questioning the classification.  However, the Research Council report says that APHIS would benefit greatly from referencing more robust science to support its position, as its draft response did not adequately explain the moth's most likely future geographic distribution in the United States or the level of economic harm it could cause. 

 

APHIS has classified the light brown apple moth -- originally from Australia and confirmed in California in 2007 -- as an "actionable quarantine significant pest" and has applied its authority to implement a program of quarantine restrictions and eradication, which has been met with some public resistance.  Prior research in other countries where the moth has invaded has shown that it can damage seedling plants in nurseries; inflict aesthetic damage on ornamental plants; and injure tree fruit, citrus, and grapes.  At the time the Research Council committee wrote the report, the moth had been found in 17 California counties. 

 

In late 2008 and early 2009, the U.S. secretary of agriculture received two petitions, from the Pesticide Action Network North America and three private citizens, to reclassify LBAM as a "non-actionable pest" based on the argument that the moth is not a significant pest economically and can be controlled by means other than eradication.  In February APHIS asked the Research Council to evaluate the scientific justification of the draft response APHIS wrote to answer the two petitions.

 

The committee found APHIS met the minimum standard within its broad regulatory powers to declare that the moth is of potential economic importance and is actionable.  Nevertheless, APHIS has not communicated its justification in a scientifically rigorous way or with sufficient clarity.  To improve the draft response to the petitions, APHIS should define terms relating to pest status explicitly and clearly.  Independently of the draft response, it should consider the development of guidelines to quantify when damage can objectively be considered of "economic importance," the report says. 

 

Moreover, the biological data presented in the draft response to support the invasive nature of LBAM, its history in California, and its potential geographic distribution in the United States are problematic and in some cases not based on sound science.  In particular, the prediction of the potential geographic distribution of the moth in the United States and all of the economic analyses based on this distribution are questionable and need reassessment.  The committee recommended that APHIS consider more biologically realistic and validated modeling approaches to predict the potential geographic range.

 

The committee also said that the draft response does not accomplish the goal of a balanced economic analysis.  It shows the greatest potential damage that might occur under extreme -- and presumably unlikely -- trade restriction scenarios.  A more appropriate goal would detail a range of geographic distributions, affected commodities, and the expected success of eradication. 

 

Lastly, the APHIS draft response focused entirely on the regulatory status of LBAM and did not address the current eradication strategy, which was an important issue for petitioners.  The committee noted that although APHIS was within its regulatory purview in limiting its draft response to addressing only classification status, the agency missed an opportunity to clarify the difference between the classification of the pest and the means of controlling it and to justify its actions to stakeholders and the general public.

 

The report was sponsored by APHIS.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are independent, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under an 1863 congressional charter.  Committee members, who serve pro bono as volunteers, are chosen by the Academies for each study based on their expertise and experience and must satisfy the Academies' conflict-of-interest standards.  The resulting consensus reports undergo external peer review before completion.  For more information, visit http://national-academies.org/studycommitteprocess.pdf.  A committee roster follows.

 

Copies of Review of U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Response to Petitions to Reclassify the Light Brown Apple Moth as a Non-Actionable Pest are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu.  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above). 

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[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]

 

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL

Division on Earth and Life Studies

 Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources 

 

Committee on Review of U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Response to Petitions to Reclassify the Light Brown Apple Moth as a Non-Actionable Pest

 

May R. Berenbaum * (chair)

Swanlund Professor of Entomology

University of Illinois

Urbana-Champaign

 

Thomas E. Bundy

Deputy Assistant General Counsel

Office of General Counsel

U.S. Department of Agriculture (retired)

Unionville, Va.

 

Sean B. Cash

Faculty Associate

Department of Consumer Science

School of Human Ecology

University of Wisconsin

Madison

 

Rachael E. Goodhue

Associate Professor

Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics

University of California

Davis

 

Vincent P. Jones

Professor of Entomology

Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center

Washington State University

Wenatchee

 

Nicholas J. Mills

Professor

Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management

University of California

Berkeley

 

L. Joe Moffitt

Professor

Department of Resource Economics

University of Massachusetts

Amherst

 

Jerry A. Powell

Director Emeritus

Essig Museum of Entomology

University of California

Berkeley

 

Daniel S. Simberloff

Professor of Environmental Science

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

University of Tennessee

Knoxville

 

Robert C. Venette

Research Biologist

Northern Research Station

U.S. Forest Service

St. Paul, Minn.

 

 

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

 

Kara Laney 

Study Director

 

                                                                       

*  Member, National Academy of Sciences