The Commission for the Eradication and Prevention of Screwworms [Comisión Panama – Estados Unidos para la Erradicación y Prevención del Gusano Barrenador de Ganado (COPEG)], cooperatively managed by the USDA and the Panama Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MIDA), seeks to reduce the damage caused by New World screwworms (NWS), a deadly and dangerous pest of warm-blooded animals, including humans, livestock, and pets. NWS was a significant pest that previously affected warm-blooded mammals in North and Central America before eradication efforts began in the 1950s. The current biological barrier was established in the early 2000s. NWS remains endemic to South America, negatively impacting animal agriculture and livestock.
COPEG produces millions of sterile NWS weekly at its production facility in Pacora, Panama. This is the only sterile screwworm mass rearing facility in the world. The sterile NWS are released by airplane over the Darien Province in eastern Panama and 20 nautical miles into neighboring Colombia. Continual releases of sterile NWS reduces the likelihood that a native fertile male fly will mate with a native fertile female fly, thereby reducing the population. The Program also maintains field surveillance and public information campaigns.
The Program employs approximately 400 people and costs $15 million annually.
COPEG maintains the biological barrier to prevent northward movement into NWS-free areas; retain technical expertise; improve the efficiency and effectiveness of operations by incorporating scientific advancements; develop capacity for emergency responses to outbreaks; and communicate with countries interested in eradicating screwworm.
This year is particularly significant as we mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the cooperative agreement between the Republic of Panama and the United States. The cooperative agreement established the Commission and formalized the efforts to eradicate screwworm from Panama, build and operate the sterile screwworm mass rearing facility, and maintain the biological barrier to protect areas where screwworm has been successfully eradicated.