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Peters pitches invasive species research bill, talks debt ceiling

U.S. Senator Gary Peters (center), D-Bloomfied Township, poses for a photo with members of the Michigan State University horticulture department.
Arjun Thakkar
U.S. Senator Gary Peters (center), D-Bloomfied Township, poses for a photo with members of the Michigan State University horticulture department.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) is pushing for legislation to fund research to help fruit producers combat an invasive insect species.

The Democrat spoke with researchers on a visit to Michigan State University’s Horticultural Center in Holt on Friday morning.

MSU researchers gave Senator Peters a tour of the farm land on the site. They told him about an invasive fly in Michigan called the spotted wing drosophila (SWD), a bug that lays its eggs inside Michigan blueberries and cherries. And if even a single larva is found on a batch of fruit, the produce can’t be sold on the market.

That poses a substantial threat to farmers in Michigan, which is ranked second in agricultural diversity and leads the nation in growing these fruits.

Peters said he wants farmers to have more options to protect their crops from the pests.

“We have to have a way to defend against this fly," he said. "Pesticides can certainly work, but our growers want to have bio defense. They don't want to be putting more pesticides on their crop.”

Peters has introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate called the SWAT (Spotted Wing Abatement Trust) Act to allocate millions of dollars annually towards research to reduce the fly population. The bill has bipartisan support with two Republican co-sponsors.

That funding would support projects like MSU's SWD response team. Researchers have been studying another small insect called the samba wasp that could reduce the population of the fly.

Last year, they started a limited release of the wasps in several West Michigan counties. They noted more financial support could allow them to expand the project to farms across the state.

Peters said his bill could help experts better understand the impact of this insect.

“Michigan State researchers here have come up with a great potential bio defense in the samba wasp," Peters said. "But we need more money for research to really know how this wasp interacts in the environment and how effective it will be in dealing with this spotted wing fly.”

Peters is pushing for the SWAT Act to be incorporated into the Farm Bill, a broad agricultural package that is set to be renewed this year.

The Democratic Senator also discussed the ongoing debate in Washington D.C. over the debt ceiling and potential cuts to federal spending. Peters said a default on the country’s debt would be devastating to the state’s economy.

The Biden administration began talks with Republican leaders in the House of Representatives last week. Peters said he thinks it’s unacceptable to use the threat of a default as leverage.

“No one should ever use default as a negotiating tool," Peters said. "It should never even be discussed. There's no other country that does this. They realize that if you incur a debt, you have to pay it. And creditors expect you to do that. And if you default, it has catastrophic consequences to families all across Michigan.”

Peters said he wants Republicans to negotiate through the normal budgeting process. He added a default on the national debt needs to be off the table.