UN-backed study on fruit flies to prompt better pest controls, renewed trade

28 October 2014

What was long thought to be four distinct agricultural pests is actually one and the same fruit fly, a new study spearheaded by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has shown, encouraging renewed efforts and solutions for better pest management.

The result of a five-year international collaborative effort involving close to 50 researchers from 20 countries and coordinated by the FAO and the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the research concluded that the so-called Oriental, Philippine, Invasive and Asian Papaya fruit flies all belong, in fact, to one biological species, the Bactrocera dorsalis .

In a press statement released today, the FAO noted that Bactrocera dorsalis was causing “incalculable damage to horticultural industries and food security” across a swathe of countries in Asia, Africa, the Pacific and parts of South America, adding that now, following its identification, improved controls could be put in place to limit the fruit fly’s harmful effects on agriculture and development.

According to the UN agency, the ability to precisely identify pests is central to pest management, including isolation measures or bans applied to internationally traded food and agriculture products such as fruit and vegetables. Identifying the cause of an agricultural scourge can thus help dissolve trade barriers and lead to greater economic development for exporters whose particular foodstuffs were previously kept quarantined.

“Keeping exotic fruit flies out is a major concern for many countries,” said Jorge Hendrichs, of the Vienna-based Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

“The study’s findings mean that trade restrictions linked to the Oriental fruit fly should now fall away in cases where the insect is present in both the importing and exporting country.”

In addition to the benefits for international trade, the new research will also promote techniques for limiting the Bactrocera dorsalis population in affected countries, such as the use of sterilized males in preventing the fruit fly’s reproduction.

In particular, this technique involves releasing mass-bred male flies that have been sterilized by low doses of radiation into infested areas, where they then mate with wild females. As these encounters fail to produce offspring, the technique can work to suppress the population in an environmentally-friendly manner.

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