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Missionovo Joins the Fight Against Invasive Fruit Flies

One of the things we do well at Missionovo is supply chain management. We specialize in tough logistics. This means getting the right things to the right places when it is difficult for others to do so. While it may sound simple to get something from A to B, doing so amid record labor shortages, geopolitical crises, and transportation infrastructure pushed beyond its limits is not for everyone. Missionovo leverages its network of domestic manufacturers and US flag carriers to deliver specialized products when and where others cannot. We pride ourselves on our ability to source products and services for federal and local government organizations. We manifest this ethos in our own workplace, too - whenever possible, we buy swag and supplies that are "Made in USA" even if it may cost a bit more. This distinction not only means that American craftsmen and craftswomen expressed their talents to produce the product, but that the majority of the product's components are sourced domestically. So, what does this have to do with fighting fruit flies?

Meet the menacing medfly

US agriculture has long served as the bedrock of the American economy. Fruits and vegetables grown on American soil feed hundreds of millions of people around the world every day. As agricultural development modernized, robust secondary economies began to take shape. Entire industries, livelihoods, and communities depend on produce yields.

Agro-terrorism, synonymous with ecoterrorism, poses one of the greatest risks to economic stability around the world. In fragile, developing nations that depend on agricultural providence, a single agro-terrorism attack can shatter progress for an entire generation. Here in the states, take for example the 1989 fruit fly attacks in California. The Sunshine State was, and still is, one of the world's largest producers of agricultural commodities, with tens of billions of dollars transacted annually. In the late 1980s, increasing reports of foreign fruit fly infestations began to pour in from farmers in Southern California. By December 1989, dozens of farmers reported that exotic fruit flies not native to the Americas had decimated fruit and vegetable yields. The ensuing response to remediate the infestations took many years to complete, cost farmers their livelihoods, increased commodity imports, and caused food prices to rise. These invasive, non-native, exotic fruit flies were still detected in California as late as 2007. Investigations that followed identified a group called "The Breeders" was found to be behind the California fruit fly attacks. Now, well into the 21st century, we see increasingly connected global commodity markets with goods traded at every port of entry. Without 24/7 management, invasive fruit flies and pests can easily enter the United States and cause irreparable damage.

Leading the fight against agro-terrorism and invasive pests is the United States Department Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program. The PPQ is chartered to protect our precious American agricultural resources in the mainland and territories beyond. Their mission to protect domestic agriculture in turn protects the health and wellbeing of Americans as well as our economy. PPQ protection efforts include programs to detect and respond to attacks of invasive insects. Particularly menacing among these insects is the exotic Mediterranean Fruit Fly (Erititas capitata), commonly referred to as the medfly. Medflies frequently afflict apples, apricots, avocados, bell peppers, cherries, dates, figs, grapes, grapefruits, kiwis, limes, mandarin oranges, nectarines, olives, oranges, peaches, pears, persimmons, plums, prunes, and tomatoes. There are over 300 fruits and vegetables susceptible to medfly infestation. In the last century, acute medfly infestations have spoiled countless produce yields around the world resulting in incalculable damage to hardworking farmers and the communities they serve.

A medfly up close and personal. Photo credit: Alvesgaspar

Increased agricultural trade and the lack of similar plant protection programs in other countries present nascent risks at Canadian and Mexican borders along with day-to-day international travel. It is difficult to determine if the country where fruit was grown, or a country along the supply chain for that fruit, has robust programs to detect and remediate invasive fruit fly infestations. For this reason, the USDA’s detection and exclusion programs of exotic fruit flies continue to make an impact protecting domestic agricultural resources. Part of this program is questioning passengers returning from international travel if they are bringing in any produce with them. It only takes one piece of fruit with medfly pupae to cause an outbreak. When traveling internationally, have you ever been asked by Customs if you are bringing any fruit?

Fruit fly larvae in an apple. Photo credit: IAEA ImageBank

The Mission

APHIS operations span several time zones. They work around-the-clock. When an outbreak occurs, or as a preventative measure in high-risk areas, officers arrange targeted, urgent deliveries of sterilized medflies. These medflies can be modified thanks to a remarkable intervention called the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). Usually, sterilized male insects will arrive en masse to flood prescribed areas, competing with non-sterilized male insects, to mate with female insects that then have fewer and fewer offspring each generation. The average lifespan of fruit fly only eight to 15 days so their progeny multiplies quickly in just a short period of time. As such, fruit fly storage, handling, and material logistics support has become an essential part of the fight to protect US agriculture from invasive fruit flies. So, where does Missionovo fit in to all of this?

Missionovo serves federal fruit fly response efforts with custom-built fruit fly shipping containers. These fruit fly shippers are specially designed to protect sensitive specimens during long-haul air and land travel. They consist of several components that must be assembled by trained technicians to properly transport sterilized fruit flies for these tactical operations. The edge crush test minimums are equally as important as the dimensions of these fruit fly shippers since they may be stacked with other cargo or sent to austere locations. While we play only a small part in the fight against invasive fruit flies, Missionovo is proud of our role to support the men and women working on this important mission with shipping containers proudly "Made in USA."

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