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Medfly quarantine affects Santa Monica farmers markets and others

November 18, 2009 |  5:18 pm

Netting Sweet Tree Claremont FM 001
A recent find of a Mediterranean fruit fly in Santa Monica has caused state authorities to declare a quarantine that has started to affect vendors and customers at 10 farmers markets in that city and adjacent areas – just in time for the pre-Thanksgiving rush.

Armando Garcia, whose family grows citrus, avocados and other fruits in De Luz, in northern San Diego County, and who sells at the Santa Monica farmers market, found out about the new regulations on Tuesday at a meeting for farmers organized by county, state and federal authorities.

As he related while setting up his stand early Wednesday morning, he was told that he could continue to bring fruit from his farm to the market, but if it were displayed openly, where fruit flies could attack it – as almost all vendors have done up to this point – he could not bring the fruit back to his farm but would have to donate or destroy it. Fruit that is protected from flies because it is within a closed truck will be exempt from this requirement, as will be fruit that has been exposed only while being handled briefly and actively, so that flies cannot settle.

Vendors will be asked to cover their produce with insect-proof screening, but that fruit cannot be brought back to the farm, said Anthony Jackson, domestic program coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Keeping this in mind, Garcia and his wife may bring less fruit to the market, to make sure that they can sell what they bring and don’t have to discard it, he said.

Local markets have dealt with Medfly quarantines before, said Laura Avery, coordinator for the four Santa Monica venues. The big nuisance for vendors is that they can’t just drape their produce with insect-proof netting; they need to build structures to suspend it above the fruit so that flies can’t sting it. A market supplies vendor “has already bought several hundred yards of netting, so they’ll be covered, literally,” she said.

Fruits flies were detected in eastern Santa Monica near the 10 freeway on Oct. 28, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) imposed the quarantine Monday, said Jackson. State, federal and county authorities are working to combat the infestation by releasing sterile male fruit flies, and the prospects are good that they will succeed and that the quarantine will eventually be withdrawn. “We’ve always beaten this bug,” he said. “There’s never been an incident where it’s become established.”

The quarantine covers 260 potential fruit fly hosts, including most of the major fruit crops: citrus, apples, pears, stone fruit, grapes, blueberries, avocados, guavas, cherimoyas and kiwis. Some “fruit vegetables,” such as tomatoes and eggplants, are included; flowers and most vegetables, such as lettuce, carrots and cucumbers, are not affected. If left to spread, the Medfly would cause great damage to the state’s agricultural production and exports.

According to a CDFA map, the quarantine will affect all four Santa Monica markets as well as those in Pacific Palisades, Venice, Mar Vista, Playa Vista, Loyola Marymount University, Westwood, Westwood Village, Culver City and La Cienega.

Four state and federal inspectors met with farmers at Wednesday’s Santa Monica market to inform them of the new quarantine and ask them to sign compliance agreements. “Most of the vendors were very well aware of the quarantine procedures and knew what they would have to do before we even started to talk,” said Jackson.

— David Karp

Photo: Stone fruit sold by Sweet Tree Farms of Dinuba at the Claremont farmers market is covered by  insect-proof netting to comply with an earlier fruit fly quarantine. Photo credit: David Karp.

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