Opinion: Get Used To GMOs

David Eddy

Whenever I write about genetically modified crops — the shorthand GMO is commonly used, which stands for genetically modified organism — I usually get feedback from members of the anti-GMO crowd. The comments range from the uninformed, about how Americans will never stand for them in our food, which is ridiculous because they’ve been there for 20 years and now the lion’s share of corn and soybeans are genetically modified; to the unrealistic, who say they will never, ever make their way into fruits and vegetables.

I was reminded of this the other day in talking on the phone with a staff scientist for Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. First off, just the fact that I found his name associated with the research I was interested in — about how they’re wiping out Pierce’s disease in grapevines, which you can read about here — struck me. I don’t know about you, but for me the name “Los Alamos” has always been associated with the Manhattan Project and black and white movies of nuclear detonations.

I asked about that, and the scientist, Goutam Gupta, said Los Alamos has been doing bioscience research from the beginning, when they began to investigate the effects of radiation on living organisms. More recently, they have become heavily engaged in bioenergy research such as on ethanol, and they employ two scientists focused on trying to come up with transgenic plants from which they can more easily derive glucose, the main stumbling block to ethanol production.

Frankenphooey

But getting back to the fruit research, and how they managed to kill Xylella fastidiosa, the bacteria responsible for Pierce’s disease, the kiss of death for grapevines. Gupta and his colleagues engineered a gene containing a bit of human genetic material, and inserted it into the grapevine. Having heard often enough from critics complaining about “Frankenfoods,” alarm bells immediately went off in my head. But Gupta, unperturbed, explained that they only used the human genetic material because the human genome had been previously mapped and they knew where to get what they needed. Once the grape genome is sequenced, which is expected soon, they will use genetic material from grapes. To which I replied, quite sensibly: “Wow.”

Then I immediately thought of another currently incurable disease in another important fruit crop, citrus greening, or huanglongbing. The disease has wreaked havoc in the orange groves of Florida as well as other parts of the world. It immediately leapt to mind because it has most recently been found, for the first time, in California where I live. Fortunately it has not been found in the San Joaquin Valley citrus belt, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, where about 80% of the nation’s fresh-market orange crop is grown. Gupta, who was a few minutes late for the interview because he was on a two-hour conference call, explained that citrus greening was precisely the topic of that call, as he is co-chair of the Citrus Health Response Program.

Hanging up, I thought about how we might have practical, commercially viable answers to these menacing diseases facing our fruit crops in the not-too-distant future. I also thought how even the most entrenched Luddite is going to have a hard time saying sure, we can save our nation’s fruit crops, but we’re going to sit back and do nothing. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in agriculture, and the course of human history at large, it’s that science marches on.

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Opinion: Get Used To GMOs

  1. I don't self-identify with the "non-GMO crowd", but I do agree with them that labeling is a very reasonable expectation. It places virtually no extra burden anywhere in the supply chain and yet will allow consumers the freedom to choose. Isn't that what a free market is all about?

Featured Stories

All Vegetables Stories >All Fruits Stories >All Nuts Stories >All Citrus Stories >

The Latest

NutsCalifornia County Passes Ordinance To Protect Walnut Gr…
August 27, 2014
Verification of ownership needed to complete sales of valuable nuts. Read More
NutsAlmond Growers Hit By Russian Import Limits
August 27, 2014
Growers reflect on changes to export market in light of produce ban. Read More
Farm ManagementLeadership And Management Expert To Speak At California…
August 27, 2014
Daniel Goleman will make presentation at California State University-Fresno. Read More
CitrusNational Scientific Summit On Herbicide Resistant Weeds…
August 27, 2014
Topics to be covered include the economics of proactively managing herbicide resistance, education and outreach efforts, and incentives and regulatory initiatives. Read More
FruitsFlorida Organic Group Dedicated To Serving Growers, Com…
August 27, 2014
Education and development programs are plentiful for interested producers. Read More
VegetablesExperimental Herbicide Technology Blasts Weeds In Rows
August 27, 2014
The technology uses an air compressor to spray corncob grit on both sides of a crop, killing young weeds. Read More
Disease ControlFungal Disease Outbreak Hits Pacific Northwest Vegetabl…
August 27, 2014
An outbreak of blackleg, light leaf spot, and white leaf spot can be significant problems in several vegetable crops.   Read More
CitrusClean Water Conundrum: Ditch The Rule Or Ditch The Myth…
August 26, 2014
Regulation inundation causing a rising tide of confusion for farmers. Read More
BerriesMichigan State University Extension Offers Tips To Prev…
August 26, 2014
Humidity, rainy periods conducive to disease development. Read More
FruitsSpotted Wing Drosophila Populations Rising In Michigan
August 26, 2014
Extension researchers advise berry growers on trapping, salt testing to take stock of pest population. Read More
Apples & PearsNorthwest Pear Crop Estimate Revised Upward
August 26, 2014
Washington and Oregon pear growers forecast a larger size crop than that originally estimated. Read More
VegetablesAgrium Acquires A Controlling Interest In Biotech Compa…
August 26, 2014
The company also acquires stake in Agricen Sciences as part of strategic effort to expand their offering of integrated, next-generation plant health technologies. Read More
Insect ControlCover All Angles When Taking On Threecornered Alfalfa H…
August 25, 2014
Learn how to ID, the survival and spread, and management methods for this insect pest. Read More
GrapesEarthquake Shakes Up Napa Wine Industry
August 25, 2014
Sunday’s early morning quake was centered just six miles from the city of Napa. Read More
OrangesNew Orange Pipeline Full Of Juice
August 25, 2014
Industry stakeholders are working on a rapid release model for processed varieties. Read More
CitrusCalifornia Citrus Cleared For Chinese Export
August 25, 2014
New agreement addresses concerns over brown rot. Read More
CitrusConsolidated Citrus Eyes Giant Planned Agricultural, Em…
August 25, 2014
South Florida real estate endeavor includes a 5 million-square-foot industrial park, including 200,000 square feet of retail space and 500 hotel rooms. Read More
Pest ControlManaging Lepidoptera In Tomatoes
August 22, 2014
This video provides information on how to best identify and control Lepidoptera in tomatoes. Read More