A Bio-Bee technician inspects a plant for damage due to Mediterranean fruit flies.Israeli expertise in pest control is going to benefit its neighbors in the Middle East thanks to an initiative to eradicate the number one enemy of agriculture in plantations and orchards – the Mediterranean fruit fly.

The UN International Atomic Energy Agency, which has taken on the role of international pest control at the UN, has chosen an Israeli company already successful in the field of pest control called Bio-Bee, to spearhead the Middle Eastern part of its program. Together, they’re launching an ambition project called Bio-Fly which will produce neutered male Mediterranean fruit flies, without using pesticides which are potentially harmful to peoples’ health and the environment.

The IAEA, in addition to helping set up the plant at the company’s headquarters on Kibbutz Sde Eliahu, is also setting up regional cooperative efforts, which will spread the effort across the region.

“Fruit flies are a regional problem and the IAEA is developing ways of fighting it. In Argentina and Guatemala, they worked through government entities, but in the Middle East, they decided that they wanted to work with private companies,” Shaul Bassi head of Market Development for Bio-b-Bee told ISRAEL21c.

As part of the UN initiative, a Jordanian and Israeli delegation, including Bio-Bee executives, have jointly visited a neutered male fly plant in Argentina. The UN and the participants hope that cooperation on eradicating the Mediterranean fruit fly will help promote cooperation in other areas.

The Mediterranean fruit fly has been destroying orchard and plantation crops worldwide. The US succeeded in eradicating the pest, and is making immense efforts to keep it out. The best way of eradicating this fly is spraying with Melathion. However, this organic phosphate that harms people’s health and the environment.

The safest method to fight fruit flies is called the neutered males method, and can be marketed in countries with strict pesticide regulations. The method is being used in various areas around the world, especially in Florida and California, as well as in Central and South America, where it has proven itself by reducing populations of the harmful pest to negligible dimensions and eradicating it completely in entire regions.

In the Middle East, the $800,000 plant planned for Sde Eliahu will produce a biological method of eradicating the Mediterranean fruit fly.

“Our company will produce the flies, and they will be neutered through irradiation techniques,” said Bassi.

After the irradiation, which will be conducted by the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, the neutered flies will be dispersed by planes across orchards, where they will mate with fertile females – but produce no offspring. Hence, the number of flies will quickly drop dramatically.

“And hopefully, within 5-6 years we will be able to really see it make a difference.” Bassi said.

The techniques will initially be used in Israel and Jordan, and eventually Bio-Fly is due to provide biological pest extermination methods for neighboring countries.

Bio-Bee is bringing a wealth of experience to the project. Farmers in Israel and around the world have been familiar with Biobee’s pest extermination techniques for years, as the company has been leading the way in the worldwide agricultural trend away from total reliance on chemical pesticides.

The company already mass produces beneficial insects and mites that is helping farmers in Israel, Europe and the U.S. fight the bad pests that ravage crops. Through their department of research and development, they collaborate with the top researchers in Israel, the United States and Europe, and with Koppert Biological Systems of the Netherlands, the world’s largest manufacturer of beneficial macro-organisms.The company also produces bumblebees for natural pollination in greenhouses and open field crops.

Bio-Bee’s biological control methods use predators and parasites to control pests, as part of a growing movement known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM); a method aimed at reducing the amount of pesticides that harm humans, the environment and beneficial organisms. In the last few decades IPM, has been gaining popularity.

IPM’s importance lies in the fact that increasingly it is becoming apparent that are pesticides are not always effective, and can often cause more damage than they repair.

Insects easily develop resistance to chemicals, pesticides, which are effective against pests, but often interfere with beneficial pests. The economic damage created by the secondary pest can often be greater than the pest originally targeted. Pesticides pollute drinking water, leave residues on food and have a detrimental influence chronic health effects. Estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) vary, but place the number of pesticide poisonings, at 3-25 million cases annually.

Biological control has been in use for well over 100 years. The USDA imported 129 vedalia beetles from Australia in 1889, to control the cottony cushion scale that was attacking California’s citrus groves. More recently, AGENDA 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (1992) demands the implementation of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as an alternative to dependency on unilateral use of chemicals.

Bio-Bee’s technology is based on learning the biological traits of both the beneficial pests and the bad ones, separating them and mass producing the beneficials. The technology does not involve genetic manipulation. The company’s capabilities are enabling farmers to implement IPM strategies, on a variety of crops.

“We develop a total combat doctrine that outlines how long the farmer should wait to implement biocontrol methods, how much to use, how the insects should be dispersed, all of the logistics involved (for instance the insects must be stored in refrigeration until their use, etc.), said general manager Eytan Ofer.

He added that the use of beneficial pests requires education of farmers, especially since it is more expensive than using harsh chemicals.

Bio-Bee’s natural enemies are being used in conventional as well as bio-organic crops that include; greenhouse sweet pepper, open-field strawberry, and protected bio-organic cucumbers, and tomatoes. One example of the company’s products is APHIDEND®, a gall midge, Aphidoletes aphidimyza, an efficient predator of aphids.

Aphids suck the sap from the plant’s vascular system and attack cucumbers, melons, watermelons, as well as sweet peppers, eggplants, citrus, cotton and many ornamental plants. The adult is not predacious, rather it is the larva that hatches from the egg preys on the aphids.

According to the company’s Web site, “It injects a poison, which paralyses the aphid and dissolves its body contents. The midge larva then sucks out the aphid leaving an empty, shriveled corpse hanging on the leaf. The midge larvae, in contrast to the adults, are active during the day and they consume dozens of aphids during their development (about one week under summer conditions).”

Bio-Bee is the largest producer of Phytoseiulus persimilus and Diglyphus isaea and in Israel, since the introduction of bumblebees into greenhouse tomatoes, there has been a 50% reduction in the overall chemical input into the crop. The company, which exports roughly 60% of its production, has achieved an impressive 50% market share of California’s strawberry crops (where most of the strawberry fields utilize biocontrol methods).