State agriculture officials were understandably anxious to announce the eradication of the Mediterranean fruit fly from Central Florida. The state had dropped $25 million on malathion and sterile flies to stem the pesky insects' spread in 1997.
Yet Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford's April 17 announcement of ultimate victory over the tiny pests could hardly have been more poorly timed. Just 10 days later, the first of more than 1,300 medflies was found in Lake County, triggering an air strike by helicopters bearing payloads of the hazardous pesticide.
Genetic tests have tied the Umatilla catch to those caught in Tampa last year, where Citizens for the Responsible Application of Malathion, raised such a stink that the Environmental Protection Agency directed the state to rethink its fondness for aerial spraying.
Still, "The fact is, there had been no Medflies found in Central Florida since August," says Crawford spokesman Terence McElroy. Asked if the victory notice might better have been withheld, he says, "In retrospect, I suppose."