March 6, 2014

Commentary - GE To The Rescue

John R. Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985.

It’s not new news to report that genetically engineered (GE) products are under assault. We are in free trade talks with Europe. The EU public is adamantly opposed to GE food. There are bills in 23 of our state legislatures to label foods that contain GE products. The naysayers have a loud voice.

However, you don’t hear a whisper out of them opposing genetically engineered medicines. Biotech health products have exploded. Totally unacceptable. Where is the logic?

Ring spot virus was devastating the Hawaiian papaya industry. To the rescue came Rainbow – a product genetically modified to resist ring spot. If you go to Hawaii, you will be served GE papaya.

Now, we face another challenge – much more widespread and closer to home. The orange industry is under assault by an expanding bacterium. This new bacterium started infecting our citrus crop about 10 years ago. Citrus is threatened in a number of states, including Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, California, and especially Florida. Millions of orange trees have been destroyed, cutting Florida citrus production to the lowest level since 1969.

Researchers are working frantically to find a solution to the “citrus greening” disease. Today, there is no known cure.

The last thing the industry wants to do is turn to genetic engineering to save their apples (oh, I mean oranges). However, Texas A&M University is coming to the rescue. They are introducing “spinach genes” into citrus trees to provide the citrus resistance.

Field trials are under way to give birth to a new GMO. This is not a done deal yet, but if proven successful, the next challenge will be to get public acceptance of GE orange juice. Maybe GE could save our oranges as GE saved the papaya.

Eventually, the public will come to appreciate the true value of this advanced science. They will come to accept the safety of the product.

GMOs have been subjected to more testing worldwide than any other products. They are safe, according to such well-respected organizations as the World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences and the European Food Safety Authority.

This post originally appeared on the OFW Law Blog. 

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The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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