‘I Regret That.’ Governor Sorry For Apple Gift Mistake; Agent Tracks Down Maggot-Laden Fruit

Signs along highways throughout Washington mark where apple maggot quarantine areas begin. It is illegal to transport home-grown tree fruit into these areas, largely from western Washington into the state's apple-growing eastern counties. CREDIT: Washington Dept. of Agriculture
Signs along highways throughout Washington mark where apple maggot quarantine areas begin. It is illegal to transport home-grown tree fruit into these areas, largely from western Washington into the state's apple-growing eastern counties. CREDIT: Washington Dept. of Agriculture

Listen

BY ANNA KING & SCOTT LEADINGHAM

Correction, Sept. 18, 2020: A word to describe the amount of apples brought by Gov. Jay Inslee has been changed in this story to better reflect the amount of apples. The word “box” is now used instead of “bin.” A “bin” of apples is a more technical industry term that is much larger than the actual number of apples in question.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s well-intentioned gesture of western Washington apples sent a detective hunting down the fruit in three counties this week.

The apples from the executive residence in Olympia were intended for eastern Washington residents who had lost their homes in fires. But the fruit was infected with maggot larvae.

In Washington, bringing a home-grown apple from west to east is a misdemeanor. There are road signs and posters. The penalty can cost 90 days in jail. But the Washington Department of Agriculture has never enforced the law. Sources at the department say it’s more about education.

Betsy Beers is a professor of entomology at Washington State University in Wenatchee. She says apple maggots are dangerous pests because they feed directly on the fruit.

“It burrows through the fruit and leaves sort of a brown, yucky mess,” Beers said.

Northwest News Network member station KUOW previously reported on the initial apple investigation and that some residents of Bridgeport were not happy about the governor’s post-fire visit.

Tree-fruit from most of western Washington, and Spokane County in eastern Washington, is banned from transport into and through eastern Washington counties due to the potential for apple maggot spread in the state's apple-growing region. CREDIT: Washington Dept. of Agriculture

Tree fruit from most of western Washington, and Spokane County in eastern Washington, is banned from transport into and through eastern Washington counties due to the potential for apple maggot spread in the state’s apple-growing region. CREDIT: Washington Dept. of Agriculture

Apple Detective

By Monday Will Carpenter was searching for the accidental Trojan horse fruit. Carpenter is the chief agent with the Chelan-Douglas County Horticultural Pest and Disease Board.

“This is the most significant case I’ve seen in seven years,” Carpenter said. “And that’s how long I’ve been with the department.”

Carpenter says the governor pretty much broke records for the quantity of infected fruit he brought into quarantine counties – more than a box full. And the mistake could have had big economic impacts for apple growers in Washington state.

“And the pest is so bad that if we were to become quarantined in any of our counties, that our growers wouldn’t be able to ship to certain export markets,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter says he was able to track down 37 apples in Bridgeport, seven in Omak and some fruit in Malden. He says every apple he cut open was infested with apple maggots. 

“We’re missing maybe two apples,” Carpenter told the Northwest News Network Thursday afternoon. “One a kid had eaten onsite on Saturday and two that were cut open for a photo op for social media.”

Throwing away the apples doesn’t fix the problem. The larvae can survive and turn into a fly for the next year. The apples have to be cooked to kill the larvae. 

In a press conference Thursday, Inslee said he was sorry for the apple mistake.

“I was thinking about the people who lost their homes, and we went too fast,” he said. “And I regret that.”

Inslee said that he and his wife would make donations to food banks in the affected areas. Though presumably the donations won’t be of home-grown apples from western Washington.

Related Stories:

Cristina Campos removes damaged apples from the flume, the front end of the packing line, on Tuesday November, 20, 2018, at Gilbert Orchards in Yakima. CREDIT: KUOW PHOTO/MEGAN FARMER

Northwest Apple Exports Are Down As Eastern European Growers Crunch Into U.S. Shipments

A boom in American consumers’ online shopping during the pandemic has prompted a boost in imports from Asia. But that left U.S. agriculture products without a ride back. Many ships aren’t waiting to be loaded with agricultural goods at West Coast ports before heading back across the ocean with empty containers. Plus, the Trump administration’s trade war hit apples hard. Continue Reading Northwest Apple Exports Are Down As Eastern European Growers Crunch Into U.S. Shipments

Orchards are shown in the foreground of the Wenatchee Valley on Monday, November 19, 2018, in Wenatchee. KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer CREDIT: KUOW PHOTO/MEGAN FARMER

Contaminated Former Orchards In Central Washington One Step Closer To Being Safer

Homes, schools, parks and daycares on Central Washington’s former orchards could soon be one step closer to sitting atop less contaminated ground. A workgroup is finalizing a report to help spread the word about pesticide contamination from more than a century ago – and to give advice on how to help clean it up. Continue Reading Contaminated Former Orchards In Central Washington One Step Closer To Being Safer