© 2023
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Invasive Tomato Pest Infestation Possible; Tomato Quarantine Suggested


A highly destructive invasive insect that attacks tomatoes is spreading rapidly around the world.  A Virginia Tech Plant Pathologist is calling for preventative measures to stop it from reaching the U.S. 

The tiny South American Tomato Leaf Miner bores into the leaves, stems and fruit of tomato plants. With no natural predators outside that region, like any invasive species it proliferates largely unchecked. Already the tiny moth, called ‘Tuta Absoluta,’ has affected 40% of the world’s tomato crop and where it strikes, it can cause nearly total crop loss.

“This pest has already reached Panama and Costa Rica, so it’s at the doors of the U.S.”

Amer Fayad is a plant pathologist and Associate Program Director of the Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab at Virginia Tech.  He says it’s time to implement quarantine measures on tomatoes being imported from other countries where the pest has already taken hold.

“...making sure that they don’t contain the leaves, stems or the calyx, because this is how this insect could move from these countries into the U.S.”

Fayad says, risk management officials at USDA are so concerned about the possibility of the South American Leaf Miner gaining a foothold, it’s not even allowing research on the tiny insect in this country. He hopes donor agencies will step up to continue supporting eradication of, and education about, the invasive pest, which first began spreading to Europe 2006.

It’s now been seen in 26 countries from Asia to Africa and the Middle East.  Tomatoes are the world’s largest cultivated crop.  In the U.S. they’re worth about 2-Billion dollars a year.

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.
Related Content