A recent message delivered at a “OJ Break” in November in Highland County included a message that all citrus growers should hear: promoting citrus genetic engineering as a means to beat citrus greening, also known as HLB. University of Florida Horticultural Sciences Department Chairman Kevin Folta delivered the message at the OJ Break, and he summarized it for a CitrusIndustry.com article. Read it below.
Citrus Genetic Engineering Needs
“There are many great innovations at the University of Florida and other places,” Folta said. “The big issue is they’re locked away in laboratories with no real evidence that they’ll ever come out and solve the problems. And that’s mostly because we haven’t spoken out about them with the public in a very clear way.” Folta believes citrus growers and others in the industry need to do more to get the message across to consumers that citrus genetic engineering is safe and necessary to beat pests and diseases like citrus greening.
“The big trick is, our regulatory climate right now is strangling, and consumers are afraid of the technology,” Folta said. “And that’s because as an agricultural industry, as producers, as well as scientists, we haven’t been very good at the way we talk about this technology.”
The waters of genetic engineering have been seriously muddled by those that use fake data, purposefully misinterpret actual data and even make up data. “It’s very difficult for someone who’s just looking for an answer about what to feed their family. It’s very difficult for them to know what to believe and who to trust,” Folta said.
The truth is that citrus genetic engineering will provide HLB-resistant trees, according to Folta. “The question is not if; the question is when” he said. “Whether or not that will be here fast enough to make a big difference is really the question.”
Spreading the Message of Citrus Genetic Engineering
Citrus growers, scientists and others in the industry can be the go-to authorities to bridge the knowledge gap with consumers, according to Folta. “What we have to do as ag producers is discuss with them – the people in the middle – what the technology is and what it isn’t, what are the relative risks and benefits,” Folta explained. “Genetic engineering is simply a precise extension of traditional breeding. We’re changing in ways that we can predict versus ways that were rather random just in traditional breeding. Everything that we eat has been changed by humans in one way or another.”
The best way to reach consumers in a genuine way is to share your story. Folta pointed out that “people have huge high regard for farmers.” Consumers have a high trust in farmers because “their job is … to produce a safe, affordable and wholesome product.” Social media is an excellent medium for sharing your story and reaching consumers. “Just those heartfelt stories from people who are credible have tremendous ability to sway public opinion,” Folta maintained.
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