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Entomologist Lisa Neven inserts a temperature probe into an apple. Link to photo information
Entomologist Lisa Neven inserts a temperature probe into an apple to monitor fruit temperature duing a CATTS procedure. Click the image for more information about it.

New Quarantine Treatment on Tap to Zap Fruit Storage Pests

By Jan Suszkiw
July 6, 2005

Fruit-loving insects, beware: A new technology called the "Controlled Atmosphere/Temperature Treatment System" may be coming to a packinghouse or plant quarantine facility near you.

Developed by Agricultural Research Service scientists, CATTS is a pesticide-free technology that kills codling moths, oriental fruit moths and certain other insects with a lethal combination of rising temperatures and mixtures of low oxygen and high carbon dioxide.

ARS entomologist Lisa Neven envisions using the technology as a postharvest treatment for apples, peaches, pears, cherries and nectarines destined for export to foreign markets.

Methyl bromide fumigation is a chief means of disinfesting such fruit, but the chemical is expensive, costing around $10 a pound, and its use is heavily regulated due to environmental safety and other concerns.

In tests, CATTS killed 100 percent of codling moth larvae infesting apples, sweet cherries, peaches and nectarines without significantly affecting the fruits' appearance, texture, taste and aroma, reports Neven, in the ARS Fruit and Vegetable Insect Research Unit, Wapato, Wash. Oriental fruit moth tests are also promising, adds Neven, who collaborates with other ARS researchers in Washington and California, as well as with university scientists and two commercial firms.

The Washington-California collaboration is fitting: The two states, plus Florida, produce most of America's $9 billion fruit crop, excluding citrus. California is the top fruit producer of the three and leads the nation in agricultural exports, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

Ensuring pest-free fruit is vital to international trade. Otherwise, an importing country where a particular pest doesn't already occur may reject a fruit shipment or declare an all-out ban on further shipments. As a quarantine measure, CATTS must prove 100 percent effective at killing moth larvae before a trade partner like Japan will approve its use, according to Neven.

Read more about the research in this month's issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is USDA's chief scientific research agency.