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Waiter There’s a Dye in My Soup

First they turn red, then they die. The cause of death is neither envy, rage, nor jealousy. Rather it is a common drug and cosmetic dye, known by its FDA name, D&C Red 28, 27 (water and oil soluble, respectively). The victim of this substance is the fruit fly, long the bane of farmers throughout the world and almost equally the bane of many citizens in areas where the traditional response to infestations of the flies is large scale spraying of malathion, a controversial pesticide.

The sight of fruit flies sends shivers down the spines of farmers who stand to lose millions of dollars whenever they appear. As a group, fruit flies are true to their name in that they primarily attack tree fruit, including plums, peaches, citrus fruits, apples, pears, and cherries. The Mediterranean fruit fly has also been implicated as a pest in grapes, tomatoes, eggplant, and bell peppers, among others.

Under international agreement, anytime fruit flies, including both the Mexican and Mediterranean flies, are found in an area the produce from that region is quarantined from export to uninfested areas. To get rid of this blight, a costly protocol must be followed. First, malathion, a member of the organophosphate family of pesticides, is sprayed. This must frequently be done in populated residential areas. After the spraying, flies sterilized by radiation are released to further control the population.