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MANIA; Farmers rocked by potato bug threat.

Farmers are on red alert this weekend for a tiny pest that could create a re-run of the Great Potato Famine.

Forty eight Colorado beetles have been found in the past two days in a shipment of Italian potatoes being sold at Dublin's Smithfield Market.

The half-inch striped yellow and black menace could wipe out the pounds 75million spud crop in weeks if it finds its way into the fields.

It's 10 years since the killer beetle was last located in Ireland.

Then some were found in a cargo of Italian celery but were dead before the ship docked.

All 48 discovered this week in Dublin were captured alive as they fed on potatoes at the open air fruit and vegetable market. They were sent to a taxidermist to be destroyed.

The Department of Agriculture has clamped down on controls at customs.

All shipments of fruit and vegetables are being scrutinised before being dispatched to shops.

Junior minister Noel Davern has appealed to greengrocers and shoppers to report any suspicious insect to the department. "We're carrying out intense searches of everything coming in," a department official said last night.

"But we're asking farmers, shopkeepers and housewives to be extremely vigilant.

"We need to be told immediately if anyone sees the beetles. They look like large yellow and black ladybirds. They are hungry little devils and could destroy the potato crop in weeks if they escaped."

Colorado beetles are believed to have fed originally on wild potatoes in the South American Andes.

They later spread to the Rocky Mountains and, in the 20th century, to most of the world's potato growing countries.
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Author:Tallant, Nicola
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 12, 1997
Words:271
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