Panama City, April 2, 2019. Panama and the United States celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Panama-United States Commission for the Eradication and Prevention of the Cattle Borer Worm (COPEG). The commission has been a successful collaboration between the Panama Ministry of Agricultural Development and the United States Department of Agriculture and has contributed to the improvement of food security and human and animal health in the region between Panama and North America.
The United States and Panama have jointly invested $350 million in this program over 25 years. The program has resulted in the recognition of Panama as a screwworm-free territory and generated savings of approximately $2.5 billion, specifically benefitting the livestock industry.
The COPEG program works to eradicate screwworms, which feed on the flesh of warm-blooded mammals and can kill humans and animals, by producing sterile flies. In order to carry out this mission of eradication, a COPEG sterile fly production plant in Pacora was inaugurated in 2006, costing the United States and Panama $40 million. This production plant is the only one of its kind in the world, allowing Panamanian and American scientists to work together to produce more than 20 million sterile flies per week.
Workers at the COPEG plant prepare sterile fly larvae.
The sterile flies are moved by plane and released into the air in the Darien region and surrounding areas. The wild flies, when mating with the lab-produced sterile flies, fail to reproduce.
The COPEG work cycle ends with field inspections, during which veterinarians, inspectors, and volunteers monitor the program’s progress and take corrective measures if new cases are detected.
“We are constantly developing more efficient and effective ways to fulfill our mission. Together we have been able to apply new technologies, use better tools and – most importantly – put our minds and our passion together to carry out our operations,” said Dr. Francisco Pinilla, director of COPEG on behalf of the Panama Ministry of Agricultural Development.
COPEG is only one example of the success we can achieve if we work together to solve our shared problems. Today, the COPEG plant employs 400 Panamanians, of all professional and technical levels, who prevent new screwworm outbreaks in our country while conducting research programs to improve production efficiency without neglecting environmental concerns.
“I am proud of our partnership with Panama and the investment in this program. This investment helps protect animal health, contributes to safer trade, employs Panamanians who help achieve our goals, and advances technological research that provides valuable jobs to young scientists interested in pursuing careers in biology,” said Dr. Vanessa Dellis, director of COPEG on behalf of the US Department of Agriculture.