Citrus growers, Florida officials and the US Agriculture Department are exploring genetically modified orange trees in an effort to save the state’s $9 billion industry and keep orange juice on the breakfast table, the Washington Post reports.
Citrus trees worldwide have been hit by an incurable bacterial infection from China called huanglongbing, among other names, spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, an invasive bug.
Florida, which provides about 80 percent of US orange juice, has suffered the most but the disease has also infected citrus trees in Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and California. The disease has cost Florida growers $4.6 billion and 8,000 lost jobs, according to a 2012 analysis, the Washington Post says.
Planting GMO trees resistant to the bacteria could help the industry, but Michael Sparks, chief executive of the trade association Florida Citrus Mutual, tells the newspaper it might not be acceptable to the public.
Companies facing anti-GMO campaigns often must sacrifice scientific judgment to placate consumers.
Earlier this month General Mills stopped using genetically modified ingredients to make original Cheerios, following a yearlong effort by the GMO Inside campaign, which rallied consumers to post more than 40,000 messages on the Cheerios Facebook page.
A month earlier the Big Island of Hawaii approved a near-complete ban on genetically modified crops, despite testimony from the University of Hawaii that, according to the global scientific consensus, existing GMOs pose no increased risks and have also provided some benefits. Local papaya farmers, for example, credit genetic modification with saving their crop from disease.
Genetically modified crops — that can feed 9 billion by 2050 and tolerate heat, drought and disease — are the future of sustainable agriculture, according to David Rotman, editor of MIT Technology Review.
Photo Credit: orange juice via Shutterstock