A federal panel found the U.S. Department of Agriculture failed to “conduct a thorough and balanced analysis” and needed “more robust science” when it decided against downgrading the light brown apple moth’s threat level in California.

National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council released its report Sept. 14 where it criticized the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s decision saying the agency did not fully address “specific arguments” presented in two 2007 petitions to reclassify the moth as a “non-actionable pest.”

The groups backing the petitions believed the moth “is not an economically important pest” and could be controlled in other ways besides an eradication plan.

The panel also found USDA “has missed an important opportunity to explain and justify its course of action” by not thoroughly explaining its reasons choosing to eradicate the moth.

LBAM was first reported in California in 2006 and has since been found in 17 counties.

Alex Ott, executive director of the California Apple Commission, said the moths' real damage comes from the quarantine restrictions other countries place on produce shipped from areas of California where the moth is present.

“It impacts over 200-plus commodities,” Ott said.

USDA classified LBAM as a high-risk pest of quarantine significance and in 2007, according to the report, and initiated an eradication program with the California Department of Food and Agriculture. That plan included aerial sprayings over Monterey and Santa Cruz counties that led to claims of illness and lawsuits over the CDFA’s lack of environmental review before spraying.