"GMO" and "Monsanto." The words have become synonymous after documentaries like Food Inc., and stories like this week's cover story, have pointed out the aggressive practices of the chemical company turned seed giant.
Earlier this year, activists held a protest here and all over the world. The core message was simple: Say no to GMOs, no matter the cost. But a new story in The New York Times illuminates some shortcomings with the argument.
While Monsanto has been genetically altering crops to resist applications of pesticides and herbicides so the chemicals could be used more readily, Florida-based Southern Gardens Citrus is using biotechnology so it can rely less on chemicals that are dangerous to the environment.
Ricke Kress, president of the juice giant, is leading the battle against citrus greening, a bacterial infection transmitted by an insect known as the Asian citrus psyllids. Kress' defense has always been to spray the bugs with insecticide to prevent the disease from spreading. But the practice has done little to stop the advancement of the malady that threatens his entire crop of oranges, and his company has used an increasing quantity of pesticides year after year.
So his company's trying something different. Southern Gardens Citrus is now splicing the genes from spinach plants -- which are more resistant to the disease -- with oranges, to help them fight citrus greening. He's trying to use biotechnology so he can use pesticides less. Sounds like a win, right?
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But Kress is concerned about consumer perception. While most Americans couldn't give a damn about the GMOs in a bag of Doritos -- it's easy to argue there are other, more pressing concerns with processed foods, like sodium, fat and excessive calories completely devoid of nutrition -- orange juice has been consistently marketed as an all-natural beverage. And the same activists that protested GMOs back in May want to require require all products that contain GMOs be labeled as such. Kress is worried a GMO label on his product would erode consumer confidence. "All-natural spinach-gene-spliced OJ" doesn't have the same ring.
The genetically modified oranges are currently being tested for safety, as citrus greening takes over orange groves around the world. Even Texas is on the hook.
Citrus greening has started charging across the state and is being closely watched by Texas A&M University Kingsville Citrus Center. Their website lists conventional and organic countermeasures to this disease, and tracks area infections. According to their site there is no cure for greening, and the lengthy latent period after infection makes eradication almost impossible.
Spinach OJ anyone?