By Benjamin Wachs
Last night the San Francisco Animal Welfare Commission held a public hearing on the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM) because they wanted to find out what kind of impact a spraying program designed to eradicate animals might have on…um…animals.
That was just the first of many ironies shot across reason’s bow.
The next one came when state Department of Food and Agriculture representative Bob Dowell (who heads the Light Brown Apple Moth program) tried to explain why the spraying was needed. I’ve heard Dowell give this speech before … and the justification for why the spraying is needed is always “crop damage.” If we don’t eradicate LBAM, it will wipe out California agriculture … it’s that dangerous.
But this time, he busted out a different explanation: we need to attack the Light Brown Apple Moth with pesticides because we’re worried about the impact of pesticides.
Say what? Dowell explained: there’s going to be a huge proliferation of LBAM across California in the next few years (if we don’t stop it), and since they can damage plants, farmers and people who see the LBAM in their plant nurseries or their gardens are going to want to stop them. And, to stop them, they’ll spray them with pesticides. Which is bad. So, if we don’t want to see an enormous spike in pesticide use to stop LBAM, we need to immediately use pesticides to stop LBAM.
We need to spray the village to save the village. Yes, we have really reached this point.
Next came the disavowal of experts…by the experts. (This is always a bad sign). When one of the commissioners suggested to Dowell that some entomologists … most notably Jim Carey of UC Davis … think the LBAM has actually been in California for decades, he said “we,” the state’s experts disagreed. Then he backpedaled. “There are experts on both sides of the issue,” he acknowledged. “So what?” Experts disagree about stuff … that’s what experts do. Have you ever been to a university? Those people argue all the time!
Then he went back to explaining how, in the absence of any actual crop damage from LBAM we have to rely on predictions of crop damage … made by experts … and how, despite significant anecdotal evidence of human and animal injuries from the LBAM spraying, we need to rely on expert opinion that the spraying probably wasn’t the cause. (“People just get sick sometimes,” he actually said. Along with: a bunch of birds all die at once sometimes, it happens. And rabbits. A whole lot of rabbits just die at once for no discernable cause sometimes. It happens. And cats. And fish. And it’s sheer coincidence that it’s all tended to follow the spraying – although we’re sure it’s not the spraying).
Oh sweet irony! Nectar of life!
Next the commissioners expressed their outrage that the moth pheromones and pesticides that the state will use were tested on animals. How dare you, they asked, use animal testing to determine if your products are safe for animals?
Other than, you know, the animals they’re designed to kill?
Where to start here?
But the most delicious irony of the hearing … about two hours long … came out over time and was a unique, probably never to be repeated, performance for this committee. Dowell, you see, usually justifies the state’s decision to use the spraying on humans by saying it’s safe because it’s been tested on animals. In front of this committee, he defended the spraying’s safety for animals by saying it’s been used on humans.
Mmmmmm … delicious.
Sadly, it was all pointless too. Because – big final irony – the Supes have already made their decision to oppose the spraying. So, the Animal Welfare Commissioners finally asked themselves when the hearing was nearly over, what … exactly … can we do here?
Despite the impassioned pleas of the crowd – the usual assortment of people threatening to leave San Francisco, mothers weeping for their children, and local experts that Dowell said disagree on stuff – the commissioners realized there was nothing they could do. They agreed to send a letter of support to the Supes supporting their policy.
It was probably the most pointless Light Brown Apple Moth hearing ever. And yet, ironically, I would agree that if you could only see one LBAM hearing this year…