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Orange Disease: GMOS To the Rescue (Not)

Virus, pig DNA not the solution to "orange greening."

GMO Orange TreeThe plague that’s sweeping orange groves across the world — it’s known as “citrus greening” — was discovered in Florida in 2005. With millions of trees at stake and huge amounts of money, big growers responded as they often do: spray more pesticides. It was thought that killing the insect that spreads the bacterium coupled with burning all the diseased citrus trees might solve the problem. You already know the answer to that one.

The usual cross-breeding of orange trees with disease resistant varieties couldn’t work because no one could find an orange tree that was resistant to the disease. So they came up with what they thought was the next best thing. Find another living thing that was resistant, or even immune, and graft its genes into the orange. Voila!, a genetically-modified solution. Considered donors, so far for this modification? Other kinds of trees, a couple vegetables, a virus and … wait for it… pigs!

While GMO supporters have found reason to trumpet the idea that GMOs might save the oranges, not everyone is happy. Even orange growers have doubts. How do you convince the public to buy a product that’s been marketed as pure and natural for decades when its been genetically modified? In turn, it’s pointed out that consumers have been buying food products with GMOs — think Fritos — for years. But, of course, oranges are different. Their long-standing reputation as a wonderful nature-given source of nutrition makes them iconic. Would consumers think the same of a juice made from oranges that contain a piece of pig genetics? And what about the world market (PDF)?

Many GMO foes have crossed over thinking that the orange juice situation is an example where genetic modification can do good. It kind of reminds us of how supporters of nuclear power started telling us that it was “clean” power especially compared to coal. You don’t hear that so much since the disaster at Fukushima, a disaster that just won’t go away. So when Mother Jones, the reliably pro-environment magazine, published an article saying that oranges might just be the one case where genetic modification can do some good, we were taken aback.

Then we read the entire article. And there’s a bunch of hedging in it. The most important point comes from a Washington State University research professor. “There’s no reason to believe that a gene that’s turned on all the time in the plant is going to last any longer than a typical chemical [pesticide] solution in terms of the evolution of resistance,” he said. Bacterial pathogens often develop resistance to pesticides in three to five years, he added.

And the takeaway is promising. “Systemic, multi-pronged approaches to fighting a tough pathogen like Candidatus Liberibacter are the most stable and resilient, the professor says; something similar to Integrated Pest Management. But the articles writer suggests that genetic modification might be part of that multi-pronged approach. I just don’t think he gets it.

But the controversy does bring up an interesting point for discussion: Are GMOS bad in every case? Or will there be certain cases in which genetic modification will be safe and/or necessary? If you ask your friendly, cautious Planet Natural Blogger, better safe than sorry, even if there are millions of dollars in corporate profits at stake.

In other GMO news: the testing results of Monsanto’s new GMO animal feed are not promising. In fact, they’re downright disgusting. Coupled with extreme confinement conditions the animals are suffering. Worse: “the symptoms veterinarians and researchers have observed in animals are not unlike many of the chronic, and increasingly prevalent, health problems plaguing humans today. Digestive disorders. Damaged organs. Infertility. Weak immune systems. Chronic depression.” Okay, I’m definitely taking the side that GMOs are harmful and dangerous in every case… until it can be proven, even in just one case and beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they’re not. Until then, we’ve got plenty of examples that point the other way. No exceptions.

7 Responses to “Orange Disease: GMOS To the Rescue (Not)”

  1. Kelcie Wampler on August 23rd, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    I have no problem with gmos as long as they are properly tested and proven to not harm life.

  2. Kelcie Wampler on August 23rd, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    Which they aren’t.

    • judi breuggeman on August 24th, 2013 at 11:52 am #


  3. Bill S on August 27th, 2013 at 5:13 am #

    Not that I want chemicals sprayed on my food, at least there is the possibility that the pesticides can be removed by washing thoroughly. Corn, oranges, etc., containing a pesticide type gene cannot be washed away and will be consumed. Show me the results of 1 test where GMOs are tested on digestive bacteria. Based on this test subject who has stopped consuming fake sweeteners, soda, high fructose corn syrup in all forms, grain fed beef and dairy, I no longer suffer from heartburn and I dropped 15 lbs. I’m no longer afraid of hot peppers & onions now that I’ve identified the true culprits.

  4. Laurie on March 20th, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

    Whether or not I would consider a GMO option to save an entire fruit species (are we even there yet?) would depend on how that GMO was being done. If it’s just to have another Round Up Ready product, then no. Just to have another product that is sprayed with massive amounts of toxic sprays or have it produce a toxin in itself, isn’t going to work for me. With careful deliberation, when we’re at a complete loss for any other solution, and a possible GMO option that actually makes the plant less vulnerable to the real disease, then I might consider long term testing of said item.

  5. Kenneth Moser on May 24th, 2017 at 7:58 pm #

    All I want is a couple citrus trees, including orange. I would like to know where I buy young plants whose fruit have seeds–in my humble opinion, the best tasting and closest to the real deal–? It would just be nice to have some degree of certainty that it will taste and smell like the real deal. Not like the 50% (if you’re lucky) at stores, and even at so called farmer’s markets. And why is seedless not a gmo? Hasn’t it been altered to be seedless? Why do we let grocer’s label their product as organic, yet we can’t get them to to label as gmo? Most of it has no resemblance to real produce, either in taste or appearance. Sorry this been driving me crazy knowing my grandchildren will never taste and smell a real tomato, or any other produce.

    • DILIP RANADE on December 10th, 2017 at 4:23 am #

      I am interested in having a sapling for GMO orange (either mandarin or clementine). Please let me know where i can buy it.

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