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US: Pesticide maker owned by political donor



by Matthew YiSan Francisco Chronicle
March 8th, 2008

The company that makes one of the pesticides state officials are considering spraying over the Bay Area to fight the light brown apple moth is owned by a wealthy California agribusinessman who has been a generous contributor to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other state officials.

According to federal and state agriculture departments, the moth's larvae could threaten more than 200 crops in California and could potentially put a significant dent in the state's $32 billion agriculture industry.

Among the business owners whose agricultural operations in California could be affected by the insect is Stewart Resnick of Los Angeles, who owns nut and citrus tracts in the Central Valley.

His Roll International Corp. owns Paramount Farms, the world's largest grower of almonds and pistachios, and Paramount Citrus, one of the biggest citrus fruit producers in the United States.

Roll International's holdings also include Suterra LLC, a fledgling pesticide company in Bend, Ore., that makes CheckMate, a pheromone pesticide that is one of four chemicals being considered for aerial spraying by officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The chemical was sprayed over Santa Cruz and Monterey counties in the fall in an attempt to disrupt the moth's mating.

Resnick has been a longtime donor to politicians, giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party and its candidates for state and federal offices. In recent years, he's also given nearly $150,000 to Schwarzenegger's campaign, records show.

Although the governor supports the aerial spraying, that decision has no bearing on Resnick's political donations, said Aaron McLear, a Schwarzenegger spokesman.

"The governor leads by what he believes is in the best interest of California and doesn't take those types of things into consideration," the spokesman said.

Rob Six, a spokesman for Roll International, said "there's no quid pro quo" and added that Resnick and his wife and business partner, Lynda Resnick, generally make a lot of political contributions. Six agreed that the moth could have an adverse impact on Roll International's farming business.

While the extent of damage the moth's larvae could cause is under debate, the pest is already affecting California growers' ability to export because other countries have begun placing restrictions on fruits, vegetables and nuts that are grown in areas affected by the moth.

"This is a very bad threat for a lot of growers," Six said. "And one of the biggest threats is on quarantines on our exports. ... There are many countries that have a blacklist for fruit or nut products if apple moth is found on them."

The nine Bay Area counties have been placed on the quarantine list by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is recognized by many nations that import California's produce.

Mexico last week added Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Napa counties to that list, said Rayne Thompson, director of national affairs for the California Farm Bureau. Federal officials need to contain and eradicate the pest before it becomes widespread in the Central Valley, the heart of California's agricultural industry, she said.

"Other countries recognize the apple moth as a huge problem," Thompson said, adding that California exports about $9 billion worth of produce each year. Restrictions could range from more stringent testing for the pest, which would cost more, to not importing the products, she said.

But debate continues to rage over how destructive the pest's larvae are and whether aerial spraying would work.

Larry Hawkins, a spokesman for the federal agricultural agency, said that there is no guarantee CheckMate would be chosen and that his department could also later change its decision about aerial spraying. The Environmental Protection Agency must give its approval, followed by a program to inform the public, he said.

But many people are concerned about the health effects of the pesticide. Last fall, hundreds of residents in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties complained of health symptoms including shortness of breath, muscle aches and sore throats after an aerial spraying of pheromone pesticides.

State officials have said they are examining the complaints but have not found evidence that the chemical is harmful.

Momentum to stop the spraying has been building in recent weeks, with thousands of Bay Area residents signing petitions to stop the spraying. Lawmakers have introduced five bills to control aerial application over urban areas, and four city councils in the region have voted to oppose the spraying.

E-mail Matthew Yi at myi@sfchronicle.com.





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