Bioterrorist attacks are a ready and present threat in the United States. So much so that Uncle Sam has pages and pages of plans against such an attack, ranging from diseases to attacking products to releasing poisons and more.
But one of the less thoughtful ideas is actually the first probable bioterrorism event in US history: flying. In 1989, California was hit by a plague of Mediterranean fruit flies, better known as “medflies,” that spread across the state. In their wake, Medflies took over and destroyed crops. An even bigger problem, however, is California’s wide range of products; They ship fruits, grains, and more all over the world… and may send med flies with them.
The 1989 invasion was the second such occurrence of med flies in California. They first emerged in 1975 and caused a political showdown, complete with obnoxious statements from the President, widespread protests and more.
Who released the flies?
Their reintroduction to the area has been claimed by a group of bioterrorists, The Breeders. According to a two-page letter to the Los Angeles Times and Fresno Bee newspapers, The Breeders wrote about breeding medflies and reached out personally to LA Mayor Tom Bradley. They listed dates months earlier for when medfly populations would have increased.
A USDA trap for catching med flies. Finding a single fly is considered a crisis. See the article : Ordered Quotas Will Not Eliminate Inequality In Business Leadership. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
The letter was published in December 1989 and was said to have been taken seriously immediately. Though a populace of politicians didn’t consider them a genuine terror group, but an individual seeking attention.
The letter also answered investigators’ questions, as they had found very few larvae but were watching fly populations grow by the thousands, including in different locations.
In their letter, The Breeders said they would release flies out of disgust at how the 1975 Medfly incident was handled: with pesticides. The bioterrorists said they planned to expand their releases, rendering future spraying efforts useless.
Although no one was ever named or identified as part of The Breeders, it is generally accepted that their claims were plausible. The case was taken over by the FBI and later by the LAPD’s Criminal Conspiracy Division.
The US Department of Agriculture also attempted to contact them through a classified ad in the LA Times.
The legislature also introduced a bill to make medfly breeding a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
In response, the state of California stopped spraying the flies just three months after the letter was published. (It’s also likely that they wanted to avoid a political storm like that of the ’70s.) Instead, the state began using other methods to find, identify, and eradicate med flies.
Although they are now considered a native species in California, there has not been an active threat to production since breeders were scared.