Organic Farmers Thwart Tropical Disease Eradication Efforts

Published March 17, 2016

The Associated Press reports organic farmers are thwarting efforts to stem an outbreak of Dengue fever that has already infected more than 260 people on the big island, and to prevent an outbreak of Zika, by preventing public health officials from spraying pesticides to eradicate disease carrying mosquitos on their properties or near their crops 

Global health officials have identified mosquito eradication as the key to curtailing the Zika outbreak that has taken hold in a number South American countries, as well as preventing it from taking hold in other areas where the disease bearing mosquito, Aedes aegypti, is endemic.

“Any place a dengue outbreak can occur, a Zika outbreak could occur,” Lyle Peterson, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s division of vector-borne diseases, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Given the fact that many affected travelers could be coming to Hawaii as outbreaks occur around the Pacific, there is always the possibility of infecting local mosquitoes.” 

Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) released Interim Assessment of the Response to the Dengue Outbreak on the Island of Hawaii requested by the State and County of Hawaii by the CDC’s Dr. Petersen. In her report, Dr. Peterson wrote, “Considering the flight range of vector mosquitoes, a neighborhood wide approach to adulticiding will likely best reduce adult mosquito populations.” 

‘No Spray’ Signs Posted

The Hawaiian Islands are prime mosquito habitat, but because they are isolated, surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean, effective pesticide spraying could eradicate local mosquito populations and end the threat of various tropical diseases. However, State efforts to prevent a Zika outbreak and to end the rising number of Dengue cases have run into fierce opposition from organic farmers who are regularly post “no spray” signs on their properties. 

Organic farmers fear allowing spraying will put them out of business, since if pesticides are used on their crops, they could lose their organic certification for up to three years. As a result, the Hawaii Free Press reports, 75 percent of organic farms go untreated. 

The problem is, for spraying to be effective in eradicating the mosquito, the CDC says 90 percent of all households and farms must be sprayed. 

Reducing Threat to Others

“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when Zika comes here to this island, and we have a very unique opportunity right now to squash it,” said Karen Anderson, a Big Island resident, according to the AP story. Anderson started a Facebook page to share information about the outbreak and she and neighbors have distributed thousands of mosquito traps in their neighborhoods.

Not all organic farmers have rejected pesticide spraying. Despite the risk to the organic certification of her crops, BreeLyn DuPertuis, a South Kona massage therapist and organic farmer, allowed crews to spray her property with pesticide to reduce the threat for others. DuPertuis had previously been a victim of Dengue fever so understands the danger mosquito’s pose first hand. 

DuPertuis said. “Of all the times to act, and act aggressively, it’s now,” says DuPertuis in the AP article.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.