Congress joins fight against stink bugs

Members of Congress from Maryland, Pennsylvania and three other states under siege by the brown marmorated stink bug are asking federal authorities to allow farmers to fight back with pesticides that are not now approved for such use.

Rallied by Maryland Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, 15 members signed a letter Friday to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, arguing that "if we fail to take action … damage from this insect could prove to be a national crisis."

Farmers in Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic states are reporting significant crop damage — 20 percent or more in some orchards — from the invasive Asian species.

The congressional letter asks the USDA to "fast-track" reclassification of the stink bug, Halyomorpha halys, from a nonregulated pest to one that is regulated. That would allow the EPA to approve the unregistered, emergency use of any pesticides found to be effective. Many existing products don't work because of the insect's feeding and over-wintering habits.

Greg Rosenthal, spokesman for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the agency has not yet seen the letter. But, he said, the service "is convening a New Pest Advisory Group to consider the regulatory status of the pest."

The letter also asks the USDA to fund expanded monitoring, control and eradication programs, and to work with universities and private companies to register pesticides found to be effective.

"Time is of the essence," the bipartisan group wrote. "The goal is to marshal all available government resources to develop an effective control than can be implemented by next spring." Besides Bartlett, signers include Maryland Democratic Reps. Frank Kratovil, Steny Hoyer, and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, as well as members from districts in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oklahoma and California.

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