GMO Technology Can Help Prevent Starvation

First World Activists Dictate to Third World

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Needed GMO technology to help citizens in Third World countries is being thwarted by activist groups in First World countries who are anti-GMO, said Alison Van Eenennaam, a UCANR Cooperative Extension Specialist focused on Animal Genomics at UC Davis.

“If the African people choose to use this to develop better bananas, they should have the right to use that and not be dictated to by activist groups in the First World promoting fear around this technology,” she said.

GMO technology could greatly benefit those in the developing world, especially those who struggle with starvation on a daily basis.

“Most people have never seen starvation. People take food for granted, and when you see people that have problems in their agricultural production systems that are actually affecting the food security, you have to address those problems, whether they be drought or disease problems,” Van Eenennaam explained.

“And I’m all for using whatever technology that works best to address a problem. Maybe it’s conventional breeding or maybe its GMO, or gene editing. I don’t really care. I just want to use the best tool that is available. But it doesn’t make sense to take some tools off the table for no reason, and I think that’s what’s happening around the debate of genetic engineering,” she said.

And the use of GMO crops in a third world country has dramatically decreased the use of pesticides, which should be celebrated by activists.

“About 90 percent of the farmers growing GMO crops are on small acreage producers in the developing world, that are growing insect-protected Bt cotton. And the dramatic decrease of insecticide use resulting from that—well environmentalist should be singing this from the rooftops,” Van Eenennaam said.

“It’s incomprehensible to me that if your real intent is to decrease pesticide use in agriculture, to not appreciate what those Bt crops have done for global insecticide use is to be willfully ignorant of what the data shows,” Van Eenennaam said. “It’s just a win-win for everyone.”

Helping Anti-GMO Consumers Know the Truth

Van Eennennaam: It’s Tough to Change Emotion

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

California Ag Today recently spoke with Alison Van Eenennaam, a UCANR Cooperative Extension Specialist focused on  Animal Genomics at UC Davis. She discussed the argument against GMOs and the difficulty that some science communicators have with reaching anti-GMO consumers whose arguments are more emotion-based than fact-based.

“When every major scientific society in the world says something, then I don’t believe it’s a giant conspiracy theory,” Van Eenennaam said. “I believe that’s what the data show, and I get a little bit frustrated when people cherry pick an outlining study and just selectively ignore the consensus opinion of every single scientist in the world. That doesn’t make sense.”

“It becomes more like a denialist instead of a skeptic at that stage. Then discussion around the safety of GMOs is just out of kilt with the actual scientific data. It’s frustrating trying to correct that with science because it’s very hard to counter an emotional argument. So we need to peel back the story in a narrative form,” she said.

Van Eenennaam highlighted a movie called Food Evolution, narrated by American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, which presents a factual representation of GMOs.

“I think that’s what’s been encouraging to me, just with general audience populations watching it, is they’ll come up afterwards and say, ‘You know what? This film made me think.’ ” Van Eenennaam said. “As a science communicator, I cannot ask for more than that. That’s exactly what I want people to do. I want them to dig down into the data and recognizing where they are getting the information and what it’s saying. I think that is a positive outcome.”

And certainly the movie has changed the mind of some people.

“And that is great, but we are wanting people to reevaluate on why they are changing their minds and are they willing to change their minds based on the evidence?  That is one of the focal points of the movie,” Van Eenennaam explained.

The Food Evolution movie can be seen free if you subscribe to Hulu. It can also be seen in different areas on the web. Simply search for it online.

 

 

Citrus Showcase Had Strong Showing

Citrus Showcase News

Area-Wide ACP Spraying To Start Soon

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

The 2014 California Citrus Showcase in Visalia, hosted by the Exeter based California Citrus Mutual, brought a record crowd.

“It was the largest event we have had in our 15 years,” said Joel Nelson, President of the California Citrus Mutual, the organization that hosts the annual event. “We had about 100 exhibitors and about 650 people for lunch, and roughly 1,000 growers who meandered though the entire show throughout the course of the day,”  Nelson said.

There were also six workshops that focused on the Asian Citrus Psyllid, the vector of the fatal HLB disease, water quality and even GMO research to help find HLB resistant citrus stock.

“What we wanted to do  was  give our growers a bit of optimism,” said Nelson. “Our citrus industry has been hit with so many challenges, not withstanding the ACP/HLB issue, the  disease that is ravaging Florida; the freeze in December and now the drought conditions.”

“We wanted the industry to be aware that there are opportunities to fix these problems that are facing our industry, and I think that the growers left here much more positive than when they came in,” said Nelson.

Joel Nelson and Felicia Marcus
Joel Nelson, President of California Citrus Mutual, with Felicia Marcus, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board

Some of the highlights of the half-day event included:

The keynote speaker for the inaugural Citrus Showcase Breakfast was Felicia Marcus, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board. “This is a scary and uncertain drought, and it is going to be painful,” Marcus said.

“There is no question that we would not be where we are today if we had more storage,” Marcus said. “We are concerned with climate change when we could be facing the regular loss of half of our storage…snow in the mountains.”

She also said that nitrates in the ground water are a legacy issue.

Another big topic centered on what can be done to suppress the ACP, which will help prevent HLB infected trees.

The San Joaquin Valley Citrus Industry has been discussing area-wide treatment of orchards, on top of the mandated treatments when a psyllid is found.

Kevin Severens
Kevin Severns

“As it stands right now, there would be logical areas where geographically it would make sense to have that as a treatment zone,” said Kevin Severns, a grower and  the new Chairman of California Citrus Mutual.

“There will be area captains in each of the zones, such as a grower or other person well-known in the area. They would work with an area-wide coordinator, and the state-wide coordinator will be responsible for coordinating treatment,” Severns said.

The spray timing would be when new growth flushes occur on citrus trees, a time when the ACP is attracted too.

Attendees also heard from Mike Sparks, President of the Florida Citrus Mutual, who painted a grim picture of what has happened to the Florida citrus industry and described its uncertain future.

“The losses due to HLB over the last seven years have been more than $70 million, said Sparks. “Before HLB disease hit us, the Florida Citrus industry was at 815,000 acres. Today the acreage is at 525,000.  And we are losing orange juice processing plant infrastructure due to the low volume, pegged at only  115 million boxes, down from 133 million boxes last season.”

“Every orchard in the state is infected and growers are doing every thing they can to reduce ACP numbers and remove HLB-infected trees,” said Sparks.

Mike Sparks President Florida Citrus Mutual
Mike Sparks

There is particular concern for orchards that have been abandoned.

“The cost of production in order to fight ACP with sprays continues to go up, while production goes down. We know this is not sustainable,” said Sparks.

“Over the years, Florida citrus growers have had to deal with freezes, citrus canker, and even powerful hurricanes that have wiped out orchards. At least those orchards could be replanted and production would resume. HLB, is a far different threat. It has put growers to their knees,” Sparks said.