Citrus Greening Disease, a bacterial disease affecting oranges, has spread to nearly every orange-growing county in Florida, cutting orange juice production significantly and hurting farmers and producers. According to a Greenwire article by Paul Voosen, a report released by the National Academy of Sciences concludes that “conventional plant breeding is unlikely to deliver resistant [citrus] varieties” and genetic engineering may be necessary to develop citrus crops that can withstand the disease.
With the exception of the papaya crop grown in Hawaii, genetically modified minor crops like oranges have not been commercialized. However, field tests of citrus trees engineered to resist the Greening Disease are already under way. Southern Gardens, one of Florida’s largest citrus producers, developed engineered trees in a partnership with Texas A&M. However, it is too early in the trials to show conclusive results, and it may take 10-15 years to develop the disease-resistant citrus.
C. Kameswara Rao, Executive Secretary of the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education in Bangalore, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the decision by Indian government officials to impose a moratorium on genetically modified Brinjal (eggplant).
Rao believes this decision by the Indian government is not based on science. He writes that genetically modified crops, including Bt Brinjal, have been thoroughly tested and evaluated. In fact, “about 200 scientists and experts from over 15 public and private-sector institutions” participated in the agronomic and biosecurity evaluation of Bt brinjal from 2000-2009. The group found the crop safe for food and feed use and approved Bt Brinjal for commercialization in October, 2009.
Rao argues that this decision by the Indian government disproportionately hurts Indian farmers, and echoes the sentiments of Rajesh Kumar, an Indian farmer who recently published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal criticizing the government’s decision to restrict biotech crop use. Farmers in India lose between “50-70 percent of their annual marketable eggplant yield to two insects” every year. Through an advanced gene Bt Brinjal can withstand the pests and farmers can produce more yields. The same gene has been inserted successfully into several other biotech crops such as cotton, corn and potatoes.
Despite the proven success of these biotech crops and the relief they can bring by increasing food yields, he believes the Indian government reacted to misleading claims about biotech crops when issuing this decision. Rao believes that this rejection of science will only hinder India’s progress and delay the commercialization of a crop that could benefit millions.
EcoChat is a bi-weekly, hour-long live web program showcasing trends in the green movement and tonight’s EcoChat is focusing on all things food and agriculture.
Tune in at 9PM EST tonight, March 8, and watch a group of agricultural experts discussing the future of food. You are invited to submit questions for the experts by logging in through your Twitter or Vokle account. You can also participate in a real-time chat with other audience members so you can connect and collaborate with others interested in sustainability issues.=
Featured opinion-leaders participating in this week’s EcoChat include:
Michele Payn-Knoper: Michelle is the founder of two popular, weekly moderated Twitter chats, #agchat and #foodchat. She speaks professionally about agriculture, food, nutrition and social media as the voice behind CAUSE MATTERS CORP, and she’s a mom who’s lived on a farm her entire life.
Brandon Hunnicutt: Brandon is a 4th generation Nebraska farmer specializing in corn, soybeans, and popcorn. He’s beginning his 13th year on the land and enjoys playing a little Wii with his kids every now and then.
Learn more about EcoChat and how to tune in: http://www.ecochicago.blogspot.com/
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s remarks at this year’s Agriculture Outlook Conference discussed the approach of the USDA under his leadership. He is committed to propping up rural America and supporting American farmers so they can grow more crops in a healthy, sustainable manner. Sec. Vilsack, a supporter of ag biotech, also discussed the role agricultural biotechnology should play in our future. Below are some quotes from Sec. Vilsack’s speech about ag biotech.
Sec. Vilsack shares the benefits of agricultural biotechnology and why his agency supports an approach that includes the technology:
“Our new trade strategy also has to focus on biotechnology and developing a way in which we can do a better job of using that science, a better understanding of the environmental benefits that could occur from biotechnology — less pesticides and less chemicals, less damage to the environment, greater productivity at a time when the world’s population continues to expand and the available land for productivity shrinks because cities are expanding.”
Sec. Vilsack also talks about biofuels and agriculture’s potential in leading America towards a better and safer energy future.
“There is an enormous opportunity for this country in the area of energy. I have seen it in my home state of Iowa. It can be replicated across the country, which is why we have put a lot of time and effort into developing the biofuels task force report for the president, a discussion of how we might be able to use agriculture’s power, either in terms of production of crops or production of crop residue, or production of forest and biomass, that can create new opportunities for this country to make us far less dependent than we are today on foreign energy sources. It is time for America to take back its energy destiny. It can do this through the farmers and ranchers and rural communities of this country. Every sector of our nation, every geographic area of our nation, can contribute to this.”
You can read Sec. Vilsack’s full remarks here. You can watch the video of his speech here.