One group’s pork is another group’s treasure.

A conservative fiscal watchdog group recently gave Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, the “French Kiss Off Award” for sending $211,000 to France to study an agricultural pest.

The mock honor came from Washington, D.C.-based Citizens Against Government Waste, which publishes an annual compendium of what the group considers pork barrel legislation.

Rep. Thompson vigorously defended the earmark, which went to fight the grapevine-devastating Pierce’s Disease, olive pests and Sudden Oak Death, among other purposes.

CAGW officials did not return phone calls regarding this story. But the group’s Web Site said its mission is to “eliminate waste, mismanagement and inefficiency in the federal government.” The group was created in 1984 by industrialist Peter J. Grace and the columnist Jack Anderson as the legacy of President Ronald Reagan’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control, known as the Grace Commission.

CAGW’s best-known product is the annual “Pig Book,” a compendium of U.S. Congressional earmarks. This year, the database linked the names of members of Congress to their earmarks.

A search of the database revealed Thompson had authorized spending for nearly $18 million in earmarks, the largest being a $3.3 million earmark for Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter research at U.C. Davis.

In a prepared statement, Thompson took issue with the “French Kiss Off Award.”

“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.”

 Thompson’s office said Citizens Against Government Waste did not contact the congressman before it issued the award.

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“Had the CAGW spent any time even talking to the USDA, they would have learned that our government does research in multiple USDA facilities around the world and that none of this money goes to other governments or for other government projects,” Thompson said.

Olives are the second-largest cash crop in Napa County, running a very distant second to wine grapes.

Dave Whitmer, Napa County Agricultural Commissioner said, Napa County had more than 220 acres of olive  groves, and  that the olives mostly go into olive oil production.

“(For) most of the coastal counties and a lot of the valley counties and the foothill counties that have olive producers, this olive fly is really turning out to be a really significant pest for olive producers to got a handle on,” he said. “Particularly for people who do fresh olives or olive oil production.”


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