Two tiny moths are at the centre of a social and environmental confrontation in New Zealand. In West Auckland, people and the environment are being subjected to aerial spraying with dangerous chemicals to protect pine plantations against the attack of the painted apple moth (Teia anartoides). In South Auckland, eucalyptus plantations are under attack from the gum-leaf skeletoniser (Uraba lugens) and it is yet unknown if chemical control will be used there.
Pinus radiata and eucalyptus are alien trees in Aotearoa and so are the two moths whose caterpillars are now actively eating their leaves. What's happening now had been foreseen years ago when the WRM published "Pulping the South". We then said that "the homogeneity of extensive tree plantations constitutes a serious problem for the plantations themselves. The great initial advantage of exotic trees --the absence of local fauna accustomed to using them as food-- can become an Achilles heel in the long term, when predators adapted to this species do begin to appear. At that point the food desert becomes a feast for one species, which can expand exponentially and seriously damage or annihilate whole plantations."
There were also warnings in New Zealand itself. In 1994, local activist and researcher Grant Rosoman published "The Plantation Effect" and in reference to the intrinsic vulnerability of monoculture tree plantations stated that "the biggest uncertainty with pest and disease invasion is not IF but WHEN will it happen?"
The foreseen pest invasion has now happened, but the price is not being paid by the plantation companies --who originated the problem-- but by the New Zealand people. Their health is part of the price and they have even been denied the full information about the details of what they are being sprayed with. Although they know the name of the product (Foray 48B), the manufacturer refuses to divulge its components. Overseas, some of these have been found to include toluene, parabens, sulphuric acid, phosphoric acid, sodium hydroxide (lye) and a long list of other potentially harmful or carcinogenic substances. At the same time, the taxes they pay are being used to implement the spraying programme.
West Aucklanders are increasingly reacting against chemical spraying. They have organized themselves under WASP (West Aucklanders Against Aerial Spraying) and have carried out a number of actions to oppose the government's control programme. They stress that the moth "has already cost the taxpayer over $23 million and now the government intends to spend another $90 million. The only potential threat appears to possibly be to the forestry industry's monocultured crops of cloned GE pine trees. We are asking why WE should have to pay to protect private forestry." A good question indeed.
Source: WRM's bulletin Nš 72, July 2003.
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