California asked the Supreme Court yesterday to prohibit five southern states from banning all California fruits and vegetables because of infestation by the Mediterranean fruit fly in some areas of that state.
In an emergency request, California officials, who said the state is now in the midst of its harvest, asked the court to stop Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama from imposing tougher certification procedures than California and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have imposed on produce from the infested areas.
California officials said the five states had announced that California produce would not be allowed to enter without expensive trapping or fumigation procedures, efforts California claims are unnecessary to protect health and safety in those states.
California argued that the additional requirements would have an "unduly burdensome" impact on the state's $5 billion fruit and vegetable industry, impose an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce, and conflict with federal laws and regulations on the control of the fast-breeding and destructive fly.
Texas had stopped trucks from California for about eight hours on Monday, until a California private growers' association succeeded in obtaining a temporary restraining order from a federal judge in Dallas to halt the stoppages.
"The problem is that the detection techniques [the use of Medfly traps] can't assure" that the produce is free of infestation, a representative of the Texas Department of Agriculture said in an interview yesterday. "They are not using enough traps per square mile to guarantee that there is no infestation," she said.
Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. asked the states and the U.S. solicitor general to respond by Friday to California's request. Since the high court is in recess for the summer, the two justices responded to the request in their capacities as justices for the judicial circuits encompassing the five southern states.
Last March the court voted 6 to 3 to issue a temporary restraining order against Texas' imposing similar restrictions on California produce. Yesterday California officials said they were worried because the court took two weeks to act on California's request that time. A similar delay, they said, could cause considerable losses during the harvest.
However, a California agriculture official said yesterday that as far as he knew, no California trucks were being stopped from entering the southern states.
The head of the eradication effort, Jerry Scribner, said, "The mood has really shifted. The general feeling on the project and off is that eradication is virtually inevitable." He spoke following the first wave of malathion spraying over a recently expanded 227-square-mile area where 155 larvae-infested properties were found.
Gregory Wildinson, a California deputy attorney general, said that there is no problem with the restrictions placed on produce from the three counties near San Francisco shown to have been infested by the fly. Those counties grow only about 1 percent of the state's produce.
The dispute is over what restrictions may be placed on produce grown outside the areas proven to be infested. The five southern states, he said, want five traps per square mile all over California, something the state may not be able to do for several weeks. Wilkinson said the state simply does not have the fumigation or refrigeration capacity to meet those requirements.
Wilknson said the increased restrictions in the southern states could affect East Coast states as well, since rerouting truck shipments could be difficult and expensive.