Expert Report

Review of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plan Health Inspection Service Response to Petitions to Reclassify the Light Brown Apple Moth as a Non-Actionable Pest: A Letter Report (2009)

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The light brown apple moth, a native of Australia discovered in California in 2006, is a moth that eats many kinds of plants. In 2007 in a pre-emptive effort against potential damage the moth might cause, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) classified the moth as an "actionable quarantine-significant pest" and implemented a program of quarantine restrictions and eradication. However, several petitions were submitted by members of the public seeking to reclassify the moth as a non-actionable pest against which no action should be taken.

This letter report from the National Research Council evaluates APHIS response to those petitions. The committee determined that APHIS' response did meet the minimal requirements to support its classification of the light brown apple moth as a quarantine-significant pest; however, the response was imprecise in its references to the scientific literature on the moth and unclear in its economic analysis. Additionally, APHIS missed an opportunity to share relevant information, explain its decisions, and reduce public concerns surrounding measures taken to control the light brown apple moth.

Key Messages

  • APHIS has not taken advantage of the opportunity to explain and justify its actions and meet its obligations under the Administrative Procedure Act by publishing the LBAM regulations for comment in the Federal Register.
  • Economic data number of crops, yield impacts, native and endangered species, and trade implications are not evaluated consistently; some estimates are probabilistic, others are point estimates. Many limitations and assumptions used to estimate environmental and economic impacts are neither explicitly acknowledged nor explained.
  • Limiting the scope of the Response has not aided APHIS and may have exacerbated public concerns about the eradication effort.
  • The biological data presented in the 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, rigorous science.
  • Under the IPPC, there are criteria for defining quarantine pest, but they are qualitative, rather than quantitative, biological, and economic criteria. Given the definitions of these criteria, APHIS justified its decision within its broad regulatory discretion, meeting the minimal standard, but has not communicated its justification in a scientifically rigorous way or with sufficient clarity.
  • Use of scientifically imprecise terminology confuses the debate and undermines credibility.