By David Halevi
With more mouths to feed and commodity prices skyrocketing, efficient and safe food production has become more crucial than ever. There's not much farmers can do to save crops from extended droughts, flooding and excessively hot weather. But the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of food lost to insect infestation annually can largely be avoided, thanks to an innovative system created by Israel's Bio[pack]
By distilling naturally occurring bug repellents in fruits, vegetables, grains and spices, Bio[pack] has developed flexible packaging for food products that repels bugs, as well as a product for use around the perimeter of a factory or warehouse to keep the site insect-free.
Manufacturers, processors and distributors of food wage a constant uphill battle against pests, a task all the more difficult now that many pesticides are banned from use near food products. The Bio[pack] solution keeps insects at bay without using unsafe chemicals, says Prof. Shlomo
Navarro, a founder and senior scientific leader at the company.
“Our solution is safe and natural, based on naturally occurring elements,” Navarro says. “We have managed to distill many of the elements in plants, grains and spices that repel certain insects, and we have thus been able to develop products that repel insects from factories and warehouses, as well as make sure they stay out of packages on supermarket shelves.”
Built-in bug repellent
Years ago, Navarro and colleagues at the Volcani Agricultural Research Center
, including Prof. Fadel Mansour, noticed that many edible plants seem to have a built-in bug repellent. Spearmint plants are known to repel ants; coriander repels aphids; horseradish keeps away Colorado potato beetles; tomatoes repel cabbage maggots; and potatoes defy Mexican bean beetles.
“These properties were knownfor thousands of years in many cultures around the world,” Navarro says, but it was only recently that scientists began studying the chemistry behind the phenomenon. “Our innovation is that we know which elements to remove, and how to integrate them with other solutions – such as packaging -- that in and of itself repels bugs.”
Packaging developed by Bio[pack] contains elements distilled from plants that repel a host of pests, but are harmless to food. By adding the solution to plastic, cardboard, paper or foil packaging, storage time and shelf life are extended, fewer products are removed from store shelves and warehouses due to infestation, and manufacturer and customer satisfaction increases.
The solution is already in use by an Israeli company that supplies packaging to customers around the world, and additional companies and regulatory agencies are investigating its viability for their markets.
Keeping bugs away longer
Bio[pack] is about six years old and is funded by private investments and by the Trendlines Group's Misgav Innovation Accelerator
, of which it is a member. Altogether, about 20 people are currently working on the project.
Bio[pack] also markets its solution in standalone form as a perimeter repellent, keeping bugs away from factories and warehouses. Because it is a repellent, not a pesticide, it remains effective for far longer.
“Resistance is a process that takes place when an element gets inside an insect population, and some of the population survive,” says Navarro. Like humans, bugs can get used to poisons, and that resistance is often handed down to subsequent generations of insects – with a new, resistant generation often appearing in a matter of weeks.
“Since our product is a repellent, the insects just stay away from the area where it is applied, so there is little chance of insects building up resistance,” Navarro explains.
Keeping bugs away longer, with no worry about dangerous chemicals, is the kind of news that makes pest control exciting.