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Orange You Glad We Have Biotech?

August 13, 2015
Down in the “Sunshine State,” Florida- grown citrus fruits are under attack—and biotechnology is their knight in shining armor. Citrus greening disease, discovered in 2005, is the most devastating citrus disease. By 2008, it had spread to all of the counties in Florida where citrus was grown.

The disease is caused by the bacteria huanglongbing (HLB). It clogs the plant’s nutrient transport system, the phloem, so it cannot transport or absorb nutrients which are needed to make fruit, grow, and survive.

In an article released by The Packer, Doug Ohlemeier interviews Ricke Kress who is the President of Southern Gardens Citrus—a Florida operation that was granted an experimental permit from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to grow citrus with a disease resistant gene incorporated into the genome.
“Every researcher in the world that is familiar with the disease has indicated that the ultimate solution will be biotechnology.”

Kress patented a gene in spinach which is placed in the fruit to produce defense proteins to battle the disease.

Kress confesses that even though the science is promising, America could lose citrus all together due to controversy over GMOs. So before moving on, Kress and fellow scientists want to take the necessary steps to educate the public on this technology and how it is a safe solution that could save some of America’s favorite fruits.
“Our food supply is safe for a reason: We have regulatory processes that we have to follow to ensure it. We are doing research, we are doing the regulatory work, we are doing the work on agriculture and we have to communicate and educate the consumer. If we do the first three right, we got a safe and effective product. If we don’t satisfy the consumer, the first three don’t matter.”

The disease poses the greatest risk for oranges and grapefruits, but essentially all citrus fruits are susceptible. They recently have completed their research in testing the quality of the fruits and have also completed regulations which prove that these fruits are safe and equivalent to their non-GM counterparts. Now they are getting ready to mass produce these fruits and spread the word that biotech has saved the varieties.
“This disease has forced this industry to become better growers. We have had to evaluate what we did in the past and what we have to do in the future and by and large, we are doing better at growing citrus.”

Thanks to biotech, I will never have to endure breakfast without my favorite glass of orange juice.
If biotechnology is the answer but it won’t be accepted for whatever reason, then maybe we don’t have citrus. Could we live without citrus? Probably. But what is the next product?

Watch the interview: