Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Those Who Live On Bridges To Nowhere . . .

Sarah Palin unwisely tried to blast as federal pork a earmark to study fruit flies "in Paris, France" (as if the location had anything to do with the project's worthiness, or the lack of it.)

Palin appeared to be cribbing from the Citizens Against Government Waste's awarding of an "oinker" to a Democratic congressman for appropriating $212,000 for olive fruit fly research. That project's value is hard to ascertain from CAGW's announcement, which contains no details about why it thinks the research is so wasteful.

Given her own record on the subject, Palin ought to do more research before deriding something as pork. Just because it looks ridiculous at first glance, as fruit fly research does to those who are not knowledgeable about science, doesn't mean it is ridiculous. As the lefty site ThinkProgress pointed out in the link I gave, fruit fly research has been quite useful to understanding human diseases. Many fruit fly genes are quite similar to human genes; they exist for the same reasons and do the same thing.

Of course, this grant is not aimed for human health; it is for research on an destructive agricultural pest. California is continually battling such invasive pests. One can debate the merits of the federal government funding such research, but it's hardly wasteful per se. Here's more info on the olive fruit fly's threat.

Olives are a minor crop in California. In 2004, UC Davis Agricultural Extension estimated the value of California's olive oil industry at about $85 million annually. But there's more -- according to the Napa Valley Register, the earmark also goes to fund research into Pierce's disease, a bacterial pest of grapevines. That has been a major concern of winegrape growers in California, and its ravages has sharply cut back on the acreage of vineyards in areas like Temecula. And wine, and the grapes that make them, are much more significant economically. The value of grapes, for wine and table grapes, was $2.76 billion in 2004, according to the Agricultural Resource Marketing Center.

However, why do the olive fruit fly research in France? The author of the earmark, Rep. Mike Thompson, gave a reasonable answer in the Napa Valley Register article:

“The Olive Fruit Fly has infested thousands of California olive groves and is the single largest threat to the U.S. olive and olive oil industries,” he said. “I secured $748,000 for olive fruit fly research and irradiation in the (fiscal year 2008) appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA will use some of that funding for their research facility in France. This USDA research facility is located in France because Mediterranean countries like France have dealt with the Olive Fruit Fly for decades, while California has only been exposed since the late 1990s. This is not uncommon; the USDA has several international research facilities throughout the world, including Australia, China and Argentina.”

One could argue that the agricultural growers should themselves be funding the research, since they have such an interest in the issue. But the research is by no means as ridiculous as CAGW or Palin say it is.

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