In August, for two weeks, the workers took every single orange from Vince Bernard’s groves of Valley Center, Calif. They dumped the oranges — at around $500,000 in value, Bernard says–in ditches on his neighbor’s property.
They took action on the instructions of authorities from the U.S. government, which arm-stretched California Highway Patrol officers accompanied and did not pay Bernard one cent for the crop. Bernard’s oranges were destroyed when they were destroyed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) discovered five Mexican fruit insects on the property of a neighbor and deemed them “an imminent threat” to the state’s economy. This Mexican fruit fly lays eggs in apples or avocados, and oranges. The eggs develop into larvae that tunnel into the fruits, rendering them inedible to human consumption. Since climate change has warmed on the West Coast, California has been finding more fruit fly larvae of all kinds, including Mexican, Oriental, and Mediterranean, and in its traps than earlier.
Usually, those who grow near the areas where fruit flies have been discovered must be subject to an order to quarantine their property, which means the produce must remain within their premises even though they can juice it and sell the juice. Confiscation like the one that occurred to Bernard is not shared. This incident reveals an imbalance in power between farmers and a state agency that, according to scientists, has let down the people it’s meant to safeguard.
“They bully growers,” Says James Carey, a professor of Entomology at the University of California, Davis concerning CDFA as well as CDFA and the U.S. Department. of Agriculture (USDA), both of which work together in responding to outbreaks of pests. “They know they can walk in, declare that the Western world as we know it will be destroyed because of fruit flies, and they have the law on their side.”
Fruit flies aren’t the sole issue. In a study released in September, Carey and his colleagues looked into a 14-year-long effort to eliminate the moth that is light Brown within the U.S. that ended in December 2021. As they discovered, the program started and ended with an emergency directive from the USDA, which claimed millions of dollars worth of crops were in danger. The program was completed, they concluded by government officials from the U.S. government, admitting that the light brown moth posed no threat and did not cause any economic harm besides the millions of dollars spent to eliminate it.
The fact is that tropical fruit bugs pose dangers to the state’s crops. However, Carey’s research shows over the past several decades, the government has often taken drastic measures to eliminate the pests and then declared their eradication only to see problems returning in subsequent growth seasons.
In 1981, following the discovery that the Mediterranean fruit fly had been discovered in California, Governor Jerry Brown hesitated to spray pesticides through the sky to eliminate the flies due to the possibility of a negative effect on human beings. In the meantime, USDA warned that it would declare a quarantine on the entire state of California if aerial spraying did not occur, but Brown was willing to compromise. The federal government claimed that they’d eliminated it in the year 1982. However, in 1991, Carey concluded that California’s fruit fly was still intact. This was a conclusion officials from the government have repeatedly questioned. The CDFA declared in a statement made to TIME the agency “follows internationally recognized protocols in its fruit fly projects and has never failed to eradicate a Mexican Fruit Fly infestation.”
In economics, it is natural that the federal and state governments continue to claim that they have eliminated the fruit fly. An unknown infestation could hinder California’s ability to sell certain vegetables and fruits. The truth, however, as Carey and co-authors concluded in the 2013 edition of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B the reality is that the flow of tropical fruit fly larvae in California was now the term “blood” and that the policies of the federal and state governments intended to stop the spread of the tropical fruit flies been ineffective must understand is that they’re never going to eradicate it.” Carey says of tropical fruit bugs. “They’re treating it like a cold but ally cancer, and need to develop protocols consistent with reality.” The best method to combat fruit fly infestations throughout the U.S., he says, ‘s to devise an approach that can control them over the long term by educating farmers about the locations of the pests, the ways they spread, and the best way to tackle the issue. This could mean informing farmers about the need to grow crops resistant to fly or suggesting that farmers get insurance to ensure they’ll get compensated if their crops suffer damage. Certain countries offer post-harvest treatments such as refrigerating fruit or irradiating them so that insects don’t get a chance to survive.
According to California’s current regulations, when Mexican fruit fly species are found, the state is required to implement an action plan that includes dispersing male flies sterile to breed with females so that they produce fertile eggs, as well as spraying treatment for bait within 200 meters of sites for detection. They can also seal off the area where the flies were found, which will stop farmers from removing produce from their farms.
What is happening to Bernard is going beyond what is expected. Carey claims he’s not heard of any fruit being taken away and destroyed.
Bernard claims he was informed about Bernard was told that Mexican fruit flies were found in traps located on the property adjacent. He agreed with CDFA to adhere to an order to quarantine. This allowed the juicer to use his fruits for two weeks. He had only juiced 10 percent of the seven acres in the following two weeks. CDFA returned and told him that the time was over and they would be able to destroy the remainder of his crops. He sought compensation but was told he could not receive any compensation. Then, CDFA showed up with a warrant and three vehicles of armed officers who took the crop. Bernard says they ruined around $40,000 worth of irrigation and the harvest.
“We appreciate the effects of quarantines on producers and try to mitigate the impacts,” a CDFA spokesperson stated through an email. “While unfortunately there is not a specific program to reimburse losses, affected producers may file a claim with the state.”
The tropical fruit fly will grow throughout California and the U.S., as there are warmer nights, fewer frosty days, and even warmer temperatures, Carey says. There is a good chance that more farmers similar to Bernard are likely to be trapped in the failure of long-standing methods to combat insects, he claims.
While Bernard is so shaken that he contemplates moving out of the U.S. entirely. “You can’t do what I do,” He states, “and be looking over your back every second and wondering whether someone is going to knock on your door and take anything they want, and you don’t have the power to do anything.”