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Medfly eradication declared in Florida's Palm Beach county outbreak

by | September 06, 2010
Florida Agriculture & Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson announced Sept. 1 that eradication has been declared in the Mediterranean fruit fly outbreak in Palm Beach County.

Regulations have been lifted, and fruit movement is no longer prohibited. Eradication is achieved when three life cycles of the Medfly (approximately 60 days) have passed without finding another wild Medfly.

"We are extremely relieved that the Medfly outbreak in southern Palm Beach County has been eradicated — and done so in short order," Mr. Bronson said in a Sept. 1 press release. “This is one of the fastest eradication programs on record in Florida, and the credit goes to the outstanding efforts of our Incident Command Team and the fact that the citizens there were extremely cooperative. This was the first major Medfly outbreak since the nine-county $32 million eradication program in 1997 and 1998.”

The harmful pest was first discovered during routine fruit fly trap monitoring in June. A trap containing Mediterranean fruit flies, Ceratitis capitata, was collected in Boca Raton, FL, by an inspector with the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services' Division of Plant Industry. A cooperative effort between the department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture involving intensified trapping, and treatment was begun. Regulations were put in place to prohibit the movement of host fruit outside the regulated area. In addition, sterile Mediterranean fruit flies were released to mate with the wild flies and prevent them from reproducing.

The Mediterranean fruit fly is considered one of the more serious of the world’s fruit fly pests due to its potential economic harm and threat to the food supply. It attacks more than 250 different fruits, vegetables and nuts, including oranges, grapefruit, lemons, apples, guava, mango, tomatoes and peppers. Population growth can be explosive, as females are capable of producing hundreds of eggs.

A joint state and federal program continually monitors over 56,000 fruit fly traps across the state, and to further prevent the establishment of exotic fruit flies, the Sterile Insect Technique and Mediterranean Fruit Fly Preventive Release Program began in 1999. Millions of sterile Medflies are released throughout high-risk areas of the state. Prior to the Palm Beach County Medfly find, there had been no Medfly outbreak since the release program began.

“Again, the success of this eradication program is due in large part to the cooperation and support of the residents, businesses and local governments of Boca Raton, Delray Beach [FL] and Boynton Beach [FL],” Mr. Bronson added in the release. “Allowing us access to properties and complying with regulations resulted in some hardships, and we appreciate those sacrifices. In the long run, though, it will ensure a bounty of healthy fruits and vegetables in years to come. We offer a sincere thank you to all who helped in this effort.”

In summary, eradication means that the ban on fruit movement is lifted and that all businesses under compliance agreements are released from all regulatory requirements of the program. Trapping will continue under the statewide fruit fly detection and monitoring program, and sterile Medflies will continue to be released as a preventive measure.

Federal and state agriculture officials will continue to educate the public about the risks associated with bringing agricultural products illegally (whether knowingly or not) into the state that may harbor harmful pests and diseases such as the Medfly.

One piece of infested fruit likely caused this multimillion-dollar eradication program that prevented residents from enjoying — and businesses from selling — their fruits and vegetables for a three-month period, and could have potentially wiped out entire crops. The message being promoted is “Don’t Pack a Pest. When traveling, don’t move agricultural products.”