` Europe Debates Use of Modified Olive Fly - Olive Oil Times

Europe Debates Use of Modified Olive Fly

Sep. 4, 2012
Julie Butler

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As Spain revs up its annual cam­paign against one of its olive crop’s biggest ene­mies — the olive fly — another cam­paign is under­way in Europe against allow­ing a genet­i­cally mod­i­fied (GM) ster­ile’ fly to be used as a chem­i­cal-free alter­na­tive.

Every year, aer­ial spray­ing and ground con­trol includ­ing pheromone baits are used in Spain to reduce infes­ta­tion but the stakes are par­tic­u­larly high now with the coun­try deeper in finan­cial cri­sis, and drought, frosts and other fac­tors expected to at least halve out­put next sea­son, which offi­cially starts in October.

And in world olive oil cap­i­tal Andalusia the regional gov­ern­ment is reported to have with­drawn sub­si­dies for olive fly con­trol at the same time as farm­ers face a national sales tax hike.

Olimerca reports that in the Baena Denomination of Origin, olive grow­ers will bear the up to €170,000 ($214,000) cost of aer­ial spray­ing 60,000 hectares.

Meanwhile, a European Food Safety Authority panel has just ended pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion on a doc­u­ment that could pave the way for use of GM olive flies. This was one of the pos­si­ble future appli­ca­tions of GM insects listed in its Guidance on the envi­ron­men­tal risk assess­ment of genet­i­cally mod­i­fied animals.”

GeneWatch UK says such a move would be a mas­sive gam­ble with our food sup­plies and the envi­ron­ment” and bil­lions of GM insect eggs and cater­pil­lars would be left in veg­eta­bles and fruit”, includ­ing olives.

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But British biotech com­pany Oxitec — which has devel­oped male olive flies genet­i­cally mod­i­fied so their off­spring die — says treat­ment can be timed so that insects are very low or absent at the time of har­vest, there­fore pre­vent­ing pres­ence of insect eggs and cater­pil­lars in fruit.”

Oxitec says the olive fly (Bactrocera oleae) is the sin­gle biggest prob­lem fac­ing the major­ity of olive plan­ta­tions around the world” and even at low lev­els makes table olives unmar­ketable and adversely affects the acid­ity, and hence qual­ity and value of olive oil.”

It claims cur­rent con­trols largely rely on chem­i­cal insec­ti­cides but the cost is high, resis­tance is reduc­ing effec­tive­ness, and sev­eral insec­ti­cides have been, or are being, phased out due to envi­ron­men­tal or health concerns.

Its olive fly strains have under­gone con­tained tri­als with excel­lent results” and are ready for open field tri­als, it says.

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