Genetically Modified Oranges Coming to a Store Near You

The ACP via UC Riverside

A tiny insect known as the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP for short) spreads a incurable bacterial citrus disease known as huanglongbing (HLB) or “greening.” Once a tree is infected with HLB there is no cure–you have to cut down the tree. HLB and a host of other problems, including thousand of acres of abandoned citrus groves, have devastated the Florida citrus industry. The psyllid made its way to California and the industry here is alarmed that HLB will soon follow. A Reuters story on HLB, “A day without genetically altered orange juice” has a number of astonishing revelations,

The bacterium that causes citrus greening is so lethal that the U.S. government classified it among potential bioterror tools known as “select agents” until about two years ago, severely limiting the scientific community’s ability to conduct research into the organism.

Yet another example of terrorism fears getting in the way of common sense.

The Reuters story goes on to discuss the development of genetically modified orange varieties resistant to the disease. Calvin Arnold, Laboratory Director of the U.S. Horticultural Research Laboratory in Fort Pierce, Florida, reacting to possible consumer push back on the issue of GMO oranges, suggests,

I think especially here in the U.S., they’re understanding transgenics a lot better. Just like people go to Taco Bell, they know they’re eating crops that have been produced transgenically,” Arnold said.

I try to stay open minded about GMO. It may indeed be the case that if we want either bananas or oranges we may have to resort to GMO. But I think our energies might be better spent on preventative pest management strategies. Our large scale agricultural system leaves us vulnerable to unexpected “black swan” events like HLB, colony collapse disorder and SARS. We may enjoy the efficiencies that come with globalization and huge monocultures, but Mother Nature doesn’t work that way, and she will, ultimately, defeat our intentions with tragic results. A more biodiverse and distributed agricultural system with far less international and interstate shipment of goods is less vulnerable. It’s too late to deal with HLB this way, but perhaps we can head off other catastrophes. In the end, more of us will have to to plant our own vegetable gardens and run small farms.

A last, ironic tidbit in that Reuter’s story–for a disease whose spread was facilitated by globalization–some of the labor intensive research necessary to deal with HLB is being . . . outsourced to China.

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12 Comments

  1. There’s got to be some natural resistance to it in citrus if it’s been known in Asia for over a century. If there wasn’t there wouldn’t be any citrus trees left there. I’m sure the biotech industry is jumping all over this and saying there is no way around it just so they can patent more life and line the pockets even more.

  2. Nuts. What I like best about oranges is candied orange peel. Oh and 50/50 ice cream, which is my favorite.

    Caught Erik’s permaculture article in Urban Farm…

  3. Apologies for posting an unrelated comment but I had a question to ask. A recent news article (http://tinyurl.com/33pdnsc) has stated that Amazon buys books from publishers at a steep discount, and in large volumes (similar to walmart). This in turn screws the publisher and results in less royalties and profit for actual creative parties involved (or so claims the article). My question is if Mr or Mrs Homegrown have a preference as to if we should buy straight from your publisher or if it’s alright to save a few dollars and purchase off Amazon? Looking forward to Radical Home-Ec!

  4. Tim:

    Great question. I wish I could transfer this to our recent “Q&A” post! Nonetheless, no problem answering it here.

    From our perspective it doesn’t really matter at this juncture. Yes, Amazon gauges publishers for this discounts, but the publisher of our first book, Process Media, takes that hit. I assume they make up the loss in volume. Under out contract with them, we get X amount per book, period. This may not be the case with other publishers–I don’t know, so don’t take this as a general truth.

    But it’s really kind of you to look out for us that way. Thank you.

    A great way to support us…ironically…is starting your Amazon shopping sprees from our site. You don’t have to buy anything we recommend, we get kickbacks on click-throughs. It adds up. And boy howdy–if anyone buys a camera or some big ticket item like that, it really adds up.

  5. I am really puzzled by public aversion to GMOs. I was in grad school when the technology was being developed, and was impressed by it. I am not a fan of production ag, but I wonder if most people who are averse to GMOs understand them. A health food worker told me recently that if you consume them, you become genetically modified, which is not correct. Just curious as to what the objection is.

  6. Hey Trish,

    I agree that there is a lot of paranoid misinformation out there about GMO. However, I have two main reservations about the technology. One is that it will be used to treat symptoms rather than underlying problems. For instance we, let’s say, bioengineer crops that can grow in bad soil rather than become better caretakers of our dwindling soil resources. I’m also afraid of unintended “black swan” events related to radical steps forward in plant and animal breeding. I’m conservative when it comes to complex (in the mathematical sense) systems such as nature. It seems prudent to approach complex systems with extreme caution. GMO seems to me to be too big a leap forward. But I’m open to its use given extreme caution and having exhausted all alternatives. But I distrust the technology in the hands of corporate interests who tend not to take the long view and are willing to take chances for short term gains.

  7. There’s also the big patent issue with GMO crops. It really makes the food system completely reliant on the patent holders where GMO seeds and plants are involved. This is dangerous from an economic standpoint and from a food supply standpoint. It’s a policy of encouraging fewer and fewer cultivars. In all aspects of our life, we are going to look back twenty years from now and say, “you know what was missing? Redundancy.”.

  8. There is a lot of evidence that interplanting guava with citrus prevents the disease somehow. Not sure if something in the guava repels it or maybe they attract the psyllids to it instead of the citrus. I don’t know too much about it but it’s something the AZ branch of the CA rare fruit growers were talking about a couple of months ago at our meeting.

  9. The gene insertion of a foreign gene into a plant scrambles up the gene sequence of the plant because the ‘insertion’ isn’t really done with any real finesse. They use what is called a gene gun. This scrambles up the gene sequence. In layman’s terms, stuff is moved around, missing, truncated, etc like markers, the RNA, etc. creating a gene unrecognizable to any life-form heretofore. Similar to a corrupt data packet, if anything is out of place or missing, the packet is rejected and thus dropped. But we cannot reject this gene. Our bodies will attack it causing an immune reaction and thus, inflammation. And we know now that it’s inflammation that’s the cause of all our modern day diseases. The body of information showing how bad GM foods are is copious and daunting,and available. This is the information age and ignorance is no longer and excuse.Please visit responsibletechnology.org, organicconsumers.org and gmwatch.org. Go to Youtube and watch “The World According To Monsanto”, do a search on Arpad Puztai to see what Monsanto did to one of their own who decided to stop the mad science and speak out. Monsanto is the most hated corporation in the world for good reason. Their revenues for 2012 were $117 BILLION! They want to destroy organics,all varietals,and crops that produce viable seeds to plant. They are planting their GM corn all over latin America to mutate their corn by way of pollen, sue them and make them sign a contract never to plant the seeds from those plants but instead to buy their seeds new every year from Monsanto or its affiliates, with a 400% price mark-up! They are doing the same thing in India with cotton.Now there’s an epidemic of cotton farmers committing suicide to the tune of 250,000. Nice. – See more at: http://www.thegrower.com/news/citrus-greening/Genetically-modified-orange-trees-set-for-Florida-field-trials-137441598.html#sthash.zwS9IyQ3.dpuf

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