EPA Acts on Stinkbug Emergency

But it may be too late for this year's apples, pears, plums.

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The East Coast stink bug epidemic has prompted the Environmental Protection Agency today to issue an emergency ruling allowing farms of apples, cherries, pears, and peaches to use two lethal insecticides. But it may be too late, since the stink bug has been seen on fruit in Virginia.

"EPA is very concerned about the impact of stink bugs on agricultural production and will continue to monitor the problem and provide growers safe and effective tools to help manage this pest," said Steve Owens, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. "We are committed to continuing to work closely with the agricultural community to address this very serious problem."

Under the emergency exemption, farms in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina, and New Jersey can use the insecticide dinotefuran, also known by their trade names Venom and Scorpion.

On June 21, the EPA also approved an additional use for an insecticide that may help manage stink bugs in organic production systems. The new product contains azadirachtin and pyrethrins, which are derived from botanical ingredients.

The new insecticide use was heralded by Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf who has been leading the charge on the issue. "I commend the EPA for moving quickly to allow Virginia a temporary exemption to regulate the use of this insecticide while efforts continue on a permanent fix," Wolf said.

Wolf recently told Whispers that the stink bug, imported accidentally from China, is rotting apples, pears, peaches, plums and berries. Also, he said, there are so many on grapes during fall harvests, that some get into the crushers and destroy local wine.

With peaches, apples, and even berries, the major issue is the visible damage a stink bug does. On apples, for example, the bug will insert its tongue into the fruit and suck, leaving a "corky dry area" that's visible to shoppers, says Tracy Leskey, an Agriculture Department entomologist who's co-leading a national working group researching the stink bug. "It looks bad," she says, though it won't affect the flavor.

Over time, it also rots the fruit.

Wolf adds that other crops are also now under stink bug attack, including corn, tomatoes, and soybeans. Leskey says the shield-shaped bug has also become a huge pest in homes, a double whammy few other insects pose, as it moves across the country.

It has no natural enemy in the United States. One possible foe under study is a tiny wasp, the size of a comma in this story, that is the stink bug's natural predator in Asia where it helps to keep the offensive bug's population in check. The non-stinging wasp lays its eggs in the eggs of the stink bugs, on which the baby wasps then chow down.