You're what you eat (Blog 7)

Orange you scared? Your favorite breakfast beverage is under attack!

Apparently, the orange is in trouble. Serious trouble. I’m not sure about you guys, but I was unaware that in recent years the orange has been under attack. The culprit:  C. liberibacter, “The disease that sours oranges and leaves them half green” and left to rot. Amy Harmon of the New York Times dives into this plant-based war, profiling the gallant leader in the debacle, Ricke Kanes, the president of Southern Gardens Citrus. Kanes has a lot at stake here: Southern Gardens Citrus has “two and a half million orange trees and a factory that squeezes juice for Tropicana and Florida’s natural”. Its a big player. Running out of ideas, and running out of time, Kanes has turned to genetic modification as a possible solution. After much toil, his researchers have found a gene in spinach which seems to fight the disease well.

However, the real juice here goes beyond what’s in the orange. After Kanes’ sweat, blood and tears, will consumers even buy genetically modified orange juice? Considering the juice is promoted as “100 percent natural”, is Southern Gardens Citrus altering their product against their mission? Polls show that “a third to half of Americans would refuse to eat any transgentic crop”, lovingly called “frankenfood”. Protests and media about the harmful affects of GMO’s are constantly bombarding consumers. Many consumers believe food should be left alone and that genetic modification causes a plethora of harm, spanning from allergies to cancer. While I understand we don’t want our food turning into some fifth grader’s science experiment, I also like oranges. Am I supposed to accept that it’s the natural order of the planet that oranges don’t exist anymore? Are we supposed to just let them die? That simply isn’t the American way: we fight for what we love; we fight for what we believe in.

Let’s consider Mr. Kanes’ battle:

Harmon outlines that some scientists in the field see GMO’s as a viable option for an overgrown population and a warming planet. This technology provide crops with “more nutrients, or the ability to thrive in drought, or to resist pests”. Scientists also believe that moving DNA between species is not dangerous to human health or our environment. As our climate changes, and our population booms, could GMO’s be the answer?

We should also take into consideration the orange business itself. Harmon reports that Florida is the second-largest producer of orange juice in the world, with Brazil as the first. “Its $9 billion citrus industry contributes 76,000 jobs to the state that hosts the Orange Bowl.” Can America really afford to neglect the orange’s plight or will we be throwing our neighbors into financial distress?

Kanes is up against a lot. Not only does this remedy need to work and be approved, but his oranges need to be used. With the new GMO label, Kanes is worried consumers will scoff at his product without understanding the risks of not genetically modifying. Kanes realistically states, “If we don’t have consumer confidence, it doesn’t matter what we come up with.”

Sure, we don’t know (and may never know) all of the consequences of genetically modifying food. While the game is always about money (hey- it is business), isn’t also about innovation, problem solving, collaboration and…oranges? So, what do you think? Do we do it for the oranges?

2 thoughts on “Orange you scared? Your favorite breakfast beverage is under attack!

  1. I love the current discussion about the term “natural” because we are programmed to think that companies have our best interests in mind and actually want to deliver natural products that are healthy for us. Meanwhile, the company’s bottom line is also very important, and I like that your post raises questions about the ethics of genetically modified foods in an industry that we typically wouldn’t think of as needing modification.

  2. Fascinating and encapsulates all the dilemmas.

    Is it too much to ask that the producers convince us that it is not a risk instead of trying to muzzle the critics or fight labeling?

    As a consumer, when you see producers say “we need labels that won’t let consumers doubt our products,” I don’t feel like they are on my side. I feel like they want to make sure government labeling protects them.

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