Costa Rica’s Mediterranean Fruit Fly – X-Rays and Regulations

Mediterranean fruit fly on Coffee Berry

A female Mediterranean fruit fly pumps eggs through her ovipositor into the soft outer layers of a ripe coffee berry. Coffee is one of Costa Rica's prime exports

In 2011 National Geographic had a photo contest and ironically one of the winners in the nature category was a picture of a fruit fly resting on a green coffee bean in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Obviously unknown to the photographer, it  implicated one of Costa Rica’s worst nightmares is alive, well, and continues to threaten Costa Rica’s multimillion dollar agriculture business.

The Mediterranean fruit fly, is one of the world’s most destructive fruit pests. This pest attacks more than 260 different fruits, flowers, vegetables and nuts and causes billions of dollars in damages.

It was in 1955 the Mediterranean fruit fly first invaded Costa Rica and did over $2 million in damages, or in today’s dollar, around $20 million. And back in 1955, the agriculture business was only a fraction of what it is today. With said, Costa Rica has taken massive steps to combat any infestation and has established detection procedures so that the pest does not make Costa Rica its home.

Unfortunately in the past, numerous toxic pesticides (such as DDT) were used to spray fields in defense of the fruit fly and others pests. The use of DDT for agriculture was not banned in Costa Rica until 1988 (in the US it was in 1972) when farm workers exposed to DDT became sterile or had other medical problems and sued. A pitiful settlement only yielded about $1500 per claimant.

A permanent infestation in Costa Rica would result in estimated annual losses of $1.3 billion and pretty much devastate the country.

According to Fresh Fruit Portal Costa Rica exported $743 million in just pineapple alone in 2011, keeping its position as the world’s leading shipper of the fruit; the pineapple industry employees 10 of 1000s of workers and pumps millions of dollars into the economy.

With so much at stake, government and  many companies have taken huge steps to protect their farms and most importantly, their investment.

Del Monte has about 52 acres of greenhouses in Buenos Aires de Puntarenas and after three years of regulatory negotiations, finally made a deal to export fresh tomatoes and chili peppers to the U.S. from Costa Rica, which would begin in early 2012. A 500-meter area around the greenhouse operations has become a No-Mans Zone to monitor for the pests and is spotted with detection equipment and traps.

And last week, The Costa Rican State Phytosanitary Service (SFE) also got into the program when they produced plans to sterilize fruit flies with X-ray technology to reduce crop damages. Rad Source Technologies will help installed the equipment and will also provide training for Costa Ricans about how to use it.

Sterilize fruit flies will be released into fields, and by mating with fertile flies they will not be able to reproduce, a ecology procedure that many farmers in the US have had to resort to.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), donated about $220,000 or half the cost to  SFE for the technology.

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  1. David Hastings says:

    The banning of DDT by the "experts" has not only caused a resurgence of the fruit fly but expecially mosquito born diseases like malaria.  The harm done by DDT (usually due to carelessness) is  a tiny fraction of the harm done by banning it.
    One cannot legislate a perfect world.  There are ALWAYS trade-offs.

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