California’s Crops Are Being Attacked by Fruit Flies Brought Over by Exotic Fruit Smugglers

Fruit flies are a nuisance wherever you may be. But growers in California are dealing with an insect problem on a whole other scale.

Crops on the West Coast are facing a fruit-fly infestation, thanks to smugglers who are shipping fruit into the country illegally, SFGate reported on Thursday. Throughout California, a number of quarantines are taking place, and insects are preying on some of the state’s most valuable produce.

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“This is serious and reckless behavior. If they spread, these flies can destroy crops,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. “This County’s farms and everybody’s food prices are at stake.”

The problem occurs when smugglers send exotic fruits like langsat, mountain apples, June plums, and mangoes into the United States, disguising them as meat, clothing, or paper products to evade detection, according to SFGate. Once the fruit has made it through the shipping process, it’s sold online to unsuspecting buyers, sometimes for as much as $22 a pound, with dealers making a couple thousand dollars. When the fruit arrives to the person who bought it, it may at first appear normal. But after about 10 days, a soft spot will appear—a sign that the inside of the fruit is teeming with maggots.

These bugs—which come from countries like Vietnam, India, Cambodia, China, and Laos—then infect California’s crops, including avocados, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and citrus fruits. In August, for example, Santa Clarita Valley’s Stevenson Ranch area was put under quarantine thanks to the presence of the Tau fly. And this month, Santa Clara County and parts of Cupertino, Milpitas, San Jose, and Sunnyvale were placed under a quarantine that will probably last until next June.

“It’s definitely from smuggling in my opinion, there’s just too many flies,” Michelle Thom, Santa Clara’s deputy agricultural commissioner, told SFGate. “You need a large number of maggots to be able to get a population up and going, and so this is quite a number of pieces of fruit that are coming in.”

In fact, Thom said that officials have been coming across illegal fruit shipments at least once a week, and that fighting the problem has become a “losing battle.” So for now residents are being asked to not move homegrown produce from their properties, while California works to get rid of the fruit flies.

“Shoo fly, don’t bother me” has never seemed so serious.

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