The kibbutz company BioBee is blitzing orchards along the border between Serbia and Croatia with Israeli fruit flies, ordered by none other than the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Altogether the IAEA has ordered 400 million neutered male Mediterranean fruit flies for the border area, which begs the question of why.
"The Agency supports atomic activities that are not war-related," explains BioBee marketing manager Ran Gan-El. One of those non-military atomic applications is – you guessed it – "fixing" fruit flies in what Gan-El calls a "sort of mini-reactor".
The idea is for the neutered Israeli fruit fly males to mate with the local fruit fly females, which fail to produce viable offspring. It's a sort of biological pest-control with nuclear augmentation.
Actually, the IAEA publishes a tender to supply neutered fruit flies to Croatia every year, says BioBee CEO Shaul Bassi. "Sometimes we win the tender and sometimes we don't," he told Haaretz by phone.
This year, it did and the Israeli company began gradually supplying the sterile flies starting in the second week of May.
The process of "fixing" the males in that "mini-reactor" is painless to the flies, the BioBeeings reassure.
The staggered delivery is to assure that the lady fruit flies of the Serbo-Croatian orchards have a steady supply of Israeli fly machismo and don't dally with fertile local males, says Gan-El.
"At any given moment we want to have at least 10 males per female," Gan-El explains the decision to supply the flies in tranches of two weekly shipments of 10 million flies, or, 20 million a week. BioBee has to keep up a steady supply of flies because their natural life span is about a week.
The flies, bred and shipped out by BioBee will be joining their 380 million cousins that the company sent to Serbia and Croatia last autumn. Yes, that was also an IAEA tender.
The Mediterranean fruit fly has become a pest not only in the local region but in the Balkans too. They've even reached South America, Bassi says.
BioBee has in fact been supplying sterilized male Mediterranean fruit flies to the Balkans off and on for ten years, which is when the kibbutz company was tapped by the Israeli Agriculture Ministry and IAEA, which were collaborating on nuclear – but peaceful – pest control.
There are plenty of companies that breed bugs. Why choose this one?
"They were looking for somebody who could produce insects," Bassi says simply: the company had a track record of 20 years in doing that very thing. In the decade since it's been supplying flies, on and off, it has vastly improved its technology.
"When we first built our factory, we planned to produce 15 million pupae a week. Today we can produce 90 million a week," Bassi says. For which Croatia can only be grateful.
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