Mary Hartney, President of the Florida Fertilizer & Agrichemical Association, recently submitted an opinion piece to The Ledger arguing that Floridians need to develop a healthier attitude towards biotech. In her piece, A Polk Perspective: Florida’s families depend on a healthy attitude toward biotech, explains that as a mother of two teenage daughters she worries over what kind of future they will have if activists block advances in the application of biotechnology.
Read below an excerpt of her submission:
Florida needs this technology to fight diseases in agriculture like citrus greening or in humans like the deadly Zika virus.
However, a handful of anxious activists are trying to thwart plans to fight the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry the deadly Zika virus. To date, there have been 405 travel-related cases of the disease reported in Florida. Worse, 14 locally-acquired cases have been found. Sixteen babies nationwide have been diagnosed with birth defects as a result of the disease. As Zika has no cure, the best we can do is to stop it from spreading.
The safest and most effective way of doing that is with a male mosquito that has been genetically modified to produce unviable offspring.
The modified mosquito is harmless to humans. Male mosquitos don’t bite. The Food and Drug Administration has certified that the GMO mosquito treatment is safe.
Yet activists are telling locals in the Florida Keys to oppose trials of the mosquito that could nearly wipe out the threat of Zika.
Even the weight of evidence isn’t enough for some to get beyond their fear of anything carrying a “GMO” label. The concept is new and scary to them. Yet what
kind of future would we have if we shunned new medical advances? Would we still be relying on blood-letting and leeches?
Genetic modification could save Florida’s $10 billion citrus industry, which provides more than half of the nation’s oranges, grapefruit and tangerines.
In recent years, production has sunk to a 20-year low thanks to a plague of psyllids that have spread the bacteria that causes “citrus greening.” This incurable disease first appeared in Miami-Dade in 2005 and is now found in 80 percent of Florida citrus groves. At the current rate of decline, the future of Florida orange juice is in serious jeopardy.
Fortunately, scientists are developing a bioengineered orange tree that resists citrus greening. One project involving the introduction of a spinach gene has produced promising results so far. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reviewed the data and found “reasonable certainty that no harm will result to the U.S. population” from the GMO orange tree.
We know there’s no harm to humans from eating spinach, yet there are some who imagine a spinach protein is going to harm us because it’s added to an orange tree. Some would rather see Florida’s citrus industry destroyed, along with tens of thousands of jobs, than reconsider an irrational fear. While there is no GMO citrus in the marketplace now or in the immediate future, there’s a real possibility that it’s the best hope of us having Florida orange juice in 10 or 15 years. Consumer acceptance of this modern tool in ag’s toolbox is important.
I don’t want my daughters to grow up in a society built on fear and ignorance. I want them to be able to take advantage of all the opportunity that biotech has to offer to make Florida a healthier and more prosperous place to live.
If you want that too for your family, please help by being part of a civil and rational discussion of the pros and cons of this scientific innovation. Don’t let fear stand in the way.