SAN FRANCISCO - A California court on Wednesday gave the go-ahead to a controversial state plan to control and eradicate the crop-damaging light brown apple moth.
But the ruling in Sacramento Superior Court prohibited the California Department of Food and Agriculture from using aerial spraying to control the Australian pest.
Health and environmental organizations had challenged the plan, arguing that officials understated the human and animal health risks of pesticide exposure and overstated the moth's potential impact on crops.
The court denied their petition, but put some limitations on the plan, ordering an environmental review in five years.
Agriculture authorities argued that the moth could cause billions of dollars in losses by damaging everything from apples to grapes and berries.
The moth was first spotted in California in 2007 and was detected in more than a dozen counties, prompting the government to bombard the Monterey Bay area with 1,600 pounds of pesticides to eradicate it.
The aerial spraying drew complaints from hundreds of residents of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, who said they fell sick after authorities sprayed residential areas. State officials said the spraying was safe, but they put it on hold and prepared an environmental review.
While the state cannot use aerial spraying methods, the plan approved by the court permits the use of pesticides to control the moth.
The plan focuses on controlling the moth by applying pesticides from truck based or backpack spray equipment, and by applying pesticides through plastic twist ties tossed into pest affected areas.
The court found that the state's review of these pesticide applications showed sufficient evidence that they do not pose a risk to humans or wildlife.