Biotechnology

Will Anti-Biotech Activists Cause Oranges to Go Extinct?

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Citrus Greening Disease
New York Times

On Sunday, the New York Times ran a terrific front page article about the efforts to save orange crops from citrus greening disease by means of biotechnology. The bacterial disease, spread by sap sucking Asian citrus psyllids, is now destroying orange groves around the planet. The disease has no cure and is now found in all 32 counties in Florida where citrus grows and could well result in the commercial extinction of the crop.

The article details how growers in Florida are financing biotech research to build immunity into citrus crops. The most promising technique involves inserting a couple of genes from spinach into orange trees.

The Times article correctly notes that every independent scientific organization that has evaluated biotech crops has found current varieties safe for people and the environment:

Oranges are not the only crop that might benefit from genetically engineered resistance to diseases for which standard treatments have proven elusive. And advocates of the technology say it could also help provide food for a fast-growing population on a warming planet by endowing crops with more nutrients, or the ability to thrive in drought, or to resist pests. Leading scientific organizations have concluded that shuttling DNA between species carries no intrinsic risk to human health or the environment, and that such alterations can be reliably tested. …

An emerging scientific consensus held that genetic engineering would be required to defeat citrus greening. "People are either going to drink transgenic orange juice or they're going to drink apple juice," one University of Florida scientist told Mr. [Ricke] Kress, [president of Southern Gardens Citrus].

However, the bogus anti-biotech scare campaign relentlessly pushed by neo-luddites and profit-hungry organic food peddlers is having a baleful effect on public opinion. As the Times notes:

But the idea of eating plants and animals whose DNA has been manipulated in a laboratory — called genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.'s — still spooks many people. Critics worry that such crops carry risks not yet detected, and distrust the big agrochemical companies that have produced the few in wide use. And hostility toward the technology, long ingrained in Europe, has deepened recently among Americans as organic food advocates, environmentalists and others have made opposition to it a pillar of a growing movement for healthier and ethical food choices.

Healthier and ethical? How in the world is low-productivity agriculture that uses more land to grow less food healthier or ethical?

If it's safe to eat the genes and the proteins they make in spinach, it is OK to eat them in oranges. The whole Times article is well worth reading.

For more background on the low and scientifically dishonest campaign against crop biotechnology, see my column, "The Top 5 Lies About Biotech Crops."