Advance of Destructive Moth Threatens $2 Billion US Tomato Industry

The rapid spread of a highly destructive invasive moth species that threatens tomato crops has prompted a Virginia Tech scientist to lead the charge in issuing a set of recommendations, including quarantine measures, designed to thwart the advance of the pest around the globe, according to a September 22, 2015 press release from Virginia Tech. The insect – established in Panama and Costa Rica – is moving northward, but has not yet arrived in the United States. Its potential arrival is a big concern among U.S. government agricultural officials. "Our domestic tomato industry could be severely affected," said Dr. Devaiah Muruvanda, Senior Risk Manager for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says. "The United States is taking it so seriously, we haven’t even given permits to do research, in order to prevent any possibility of the insect's escape." The pest in question is the South American tomato leafminer, Tuta absoluta. No larger than an eyelash, the tiny moth spread from its native Latin America to Europe in 2006 and later crossed the Mediterranean to Africa. Now threatening Asia, the moth strikes at the world’s most commercially important horticulture crop – the tomato, valuable to farmers around the world. The pest’s path is destructive and its advance is rapid, as it has moved from Spain in 2006 through Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and India. "When the tomato leafminer strikes, it can cause between 80 and 100 percent crop loss unless proper management technologies are adopted," says Dr. Muni Muniappan, entomologist and Director of the Virginia Tech-led Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab. "The moth can’t be completely eradicated. The best you can do is control it." Dr. Muniappan convened a group of plant protection scientists at the 18th International Plant Protection Congress in Berlin in August.
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