Nuclear Technology Helps Mexico Eradicate Invasive Insect Pests

One of the most devastating insect pests that infest fruits and vegetables in Mexico has been eradicated in the state of Colima, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In cooperation with the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), scientists were able to use a nuclear-based sterile insect technique (SIT) developed by the UN to eradicate the Mediterranean fly, more commonly known as fruit fly.

The Colima outbreak, detected in April 2021 in the country’s largest port, Manzanillo, posed an immediate risk to crops including guavas, mangoes, papaya and oranges.

If not dealt with quickly, Mexico – the world’s seventh-largest producer and exporter of fresh fruits and vegetables – could have faced quarantine restrictions imposed by states free from the pest.

It would have been a blow to trade across the sector, which generates more than US$9.2 billion a year in exports as well as millions of local jobs.

After receiving a request for emergency assistance in April, the IAEA and FAO immediately dispatched experts to help set up and assess how the SIT could be deployed.

“This is one more example where SIT has been successfully used to prevent, suppress and eradicate invasive insect pests, contributing to food safety and security worldwide,” said the FAO entomologist/ IAEA, Walther Enkerlin Hoeflich, on the technique of the United Nations atomic agency developed for member states. Member States through the Joint FAO/IAEA Center for Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

When Mediterranean fruit fly females lay eggs in ripe fruit, the quality of the produce can be affected, rendering it inedible and unsuitable for sale.

To control the epidemic, Mexico designed and implemented an emergency action plan with the help of FAO/IAEA experts, implemented within the framework of the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme.

Scientists have released more than 1,450 million sterile male flies in Colima using the environmentally friendly SIT insect pest control method, which uses irradiation to sterilize insects.

When the males mated with wild females after their release, no offspring were produced, which eventually led to the eradication of the insects.

“Mexico has managed to maintain its status as a country free from the Mediterranean fruit fly,” said Francisco Ramírez y Ramírez, director general of plant health at Mexico’s National Service for Agrifood Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA). during the event declaring the eradication of the pest in the State of Colima.

In cooperation with FAO, the world’s second largest Mediterranean fruit fly facility opened earlier this year with IAEA support in the Mexican state of Chiapas, on its southeastern border with Guatemala .

It is the second largest in the world with a production capacity of one billion flies per week to help keep the country’s growing agriculture pest-free.

It focuses on the mass production of sterile insects and, with the installation of El Pino in Guatemala, helps maintain the containment barrier that prevents the introduction and spread of the pest in northern Guatemala, Mexico and in the United States.

The IAEA will continue to assist and work with Mexico through national and regional technical cooperation projects, and through its National Fruit Fly Program, an IAEA Collaborating Center.

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