The Foreign Service Journal, March 2024

54 MARCH 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL The author (center) with the inspection team, at the irradiation facility verifying the pallet configuration and insect proof boxing before it enters the irradiation chamber. Thailand became the first country in Asia to establish diplomatic relations with the United States. JITLADA VASUVAT For the 2023 celebration the Thai government planned a July 4 event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where the king of citrus fruit would be featured. How It Worked Pomelos, Latin name Citrus maxima, are grown in large quantities in Thailand and native to southeast Asia, where they are also known as sum-oh. The pomelo can grow as large as two pounds and is an original nonhybrid citrus now used to cultivate other varieties of fruit. For example, the grapefruit is a cross of a pomelo and a sweet orange. Thailand is a major exporter of pomelo fruit, with most going to neighboring countries and China. My goal was to make the U.S. the next recipient of this truly magnificent fruit. As in many places I have worked, I had to start at the beginning: What does that mean? Market access request, pest list development, pest risk analysis, risk mitigation options, rulemaking, all of which can take time. All of this was done, and it was not a small task. The next step would be putting all the pieces together and offering a hand of friendship to Thailand with encouragement and commitment to help make it a reality. In APHIS we work on both the animal and plant kingdoms, so I got to work with our agricultural scientist and veterinarian Dr. Jitlada Vasuvat (Dr. Mai). Our Thai counterparts at the Thai Department of Agriculture were led by Khun Rapibhat Chandarasrivongs, the director general. I have worked with Dr. Rapibhat for more than 15 years, and we were both familiar with the numerous steps to safely export pomelos: surveilling plant pests, pest trapping, and ultimately certifying the phytosanitary integrity of shipments exported to the U.S. The special ingredient in this process is the use of ionizing radiation. Yes, atomic energy—this was rocket science! We want to make sure that insect pests of economic significance do not travel with the fruit to the U.S. and reproduce, insects that could cause serious harm to U.S. agriculture (like the Mediterranean fruit fly has been doing in Florida since 1929). Employing a peaceful use of nuclear energy developed more than 60 years ago, this elegant technique, called the sterile insect technique (SIT), is among the most environment-friendly insect pest control methods ever developed. Irradiation is used to sterilize mass-reared insects so while they remain sexually competitive, they cannot produce offspring. Once the target pest is sterilized, sterile males are systematically released by air over infested areas, where they mate with wild females resulting in no offspring and a declining pest population. So, if you can irradiate insects for large-scale pest suppression, you can use irradiation as a treatment for trading agricultural products. By using an effective dose of radiation to target pests of concern, you can render any pests sterile and nonreproductive. APHIS advocates the use and application of irradiation as the most effective phytosanitary treatment method. I have had the opportunity of establishing and expanding irradiation programs in Mexico, India, South Africa, Vietnam, and Thailand.