Can GMOs Save Oranges?

What does a jumping plant louse have to do with GMO oranges? The Asian citrus psyllid is said louse, and it has led the president of Southern Gardens Citrus, and supervisor of half a million trees, Ricke Kress, to allow for Florida oranges to be genetically modified. Amidst the Washington 522 GMO labeling campaign, covert Trans-Pacific Partnership, and increased public awareness of GMOs, this recent decision has been met with a black and white schism: consumers vehemently against a GMO version of the beloved citrus, and those for it. This pesky psyllid, however, is directly linked to Kress’s decision to allow for the genetic modification of the crop since it has caused citrus greening: preventing ripening, leaving sad, sour, green oranges behind.

As Kress is also head of a factory that produces orange juice for the Tropicana and Florida’s Natural brands, GMO oranges seemed to be the right direction to go in. Now, he worries that the “natural” label on the Florida’s Natural juice will have to be removed. Pepsi’s Naked juice brand was obliged to remove their label because of GMO ingredients, so Tropicana and Florida will probably have to do the same once the GMO juice hits shelves.


Although the orange was born by the completely natural process of hybridization between a pomelo and a mandarin, the process of genetic modification is, arguably, unnatural.  GMOs are developed by: removing the DNA of a desired host organism, splicing it, inserting it into a plasmid, and injecting it into a desired cell, of say, an orange, and growing those cells into maturity. DNA donors from a synthetic source, virus, pig, spinach leaf and another vegetable have been considered to be used to modify the trees. No long term studies have been done on the effects of human consumption of GMOs, but many companies have disregarded this fact. Like Kress, many companies make bold decisions to make a crop pesticide resistant via genetics rather than looking at the long term environmental and nutritional side effects.

The pig gene, one of the pig’s 30,000 genes, produced the best results out of all the “bacteria-fighting genes” Kress had tested on his trees. However, Dr. Mirkov, who tested the spinach gene, perfected his trees that had previously been susceptible to the psyllid’s wrath. Kress approved Mirkov’s spinach gene over the pig gene in the fall of 2010. These trees have survived citrus greening for a year, but the Environmental Protection Agency, Agriculture Department, and Food and Drug Administration need to fully evaluate the trees. In the spring of 2012, the EPA was first to agree to evaluate the trees, while at the same time, demanding studies on honeybees and mice. Presently, the EPA has found the spinach protein nontoxic to the animals. The GMO trees are currently growing in Kress’s greenhouse, awaiting bloom and further federal tests before the final crop makes its consumer debut. The New York Times asserts that the transgenic trees are the “only hope for an uninfected harvest.”

Florida’s oranges are being devastated by the Asian citrus psyilld, crop yields are down, and Armageddon is soon to come if evolution or genetic modification does not step in. Since evolution is out of the question, would you drink, let alone eat a GMO orange if that’s the only way to save the fruit? Is it better for genetic modification to come from a plant source or an animal source? Considering that a gene from another plant, spinach, is a clear, seemingly innocuous solution to orange Armageddon, is genetic modification OK in this case?