Radioactive birth control helps fruit farmers fight fly sex

At the height of the tangerine season in Croatia’s Neretva river delta, two pickup trucks scour a maze of water channels carrying an odd-looking contraption: a mortar-like pipe spraying orchards with sterilized flies.

Each launch sends into the air thousands of males of the fruit fly, one of the most harmful orchard pests, in what advocates say is a prime example of how nuclear science can benefit both agriculture and the environment.

They have been bombarded with radioactive Cobalt-60 in an Israeli biotechnology plant to make them sterile in a bid to reduce the fly population and the damage they wreak on the crop…

It is essentially a form of birth control,” IAEA head Yukiya Amano said. “The result has been a drop of no less than 75 percent in fruit fly damage” in Neretva, where nine out of ten people are involved in the citrus fruit industry…

The sterilized males outnumber the local fruit flies and gradually take the place of normal males. They can mate, but there is no offspring. Consequently, the number of larvae, which feed on ripening tangerines, quickly declines…

Jorge Hendrichs, who heads a joint pest control program of the IAEA and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency, said the SIT method was a win-win because it enabled farmers to fight a pest which “can easily eliminate 30 to 100 percent of the crop” and at the same time use fewer pesticides…

For other countries – like the United States, Japan and Chile – the main thing is to prevent new pest outbreaks. “They want 100 percent assurance that the product you are exporting is 100 percent free, not one worm,” he said…

Greenpeace – which opposes nuclear energy on safety grounds – said blah, blah, blah.

If you mention the work “radioactivity” our current generations of ignoranuses panic and dash about forming circular firing squads – much in the same manner as obedient Catholics volunteered to inform on witches and Jews during the Inquisition.

People simply are unread and inexperienced enough to know that descriptions of radioactive half-life have nothing whatsoever to do with the effects of radiation on sterilized products. There is no radioactive residue left behind to contaminate your fruit compote.

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