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Citrus Farmers Facing Deadly Bacteria Turn to Antibiotics (nytimes.com)
83 points by mikenyc 38 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments

This sounds so very, very bad. I really wish we could massively expand the scope and membership of the National Academy of Sciences to be able to function as a true watchdog for all of these other agencies that seem to increasingly be the victim of lobbying and regulatory capture. Also, it seems vitally important that we come up with some additional hierarchy of decision-making amongst these agencies themselves. Specifically in this case, and probably others, the CDC and FDA, which are in charge essentially of ensuring human health should be able to trump (oh god, no pun intended) the EPA/USDA which are in charge of seemingly more "economics"-scale issues like clean water and food supply. Pretty sure we can still have a stable food supply without oranges. Pretty sure we can't have a stable healthcare system without antibiotics. Its way easier to engineer a few new strains of citrus in a sterile lab than it is to deal with humans' genetic inability to deal with every infection-causing bacteria becoming resistant.

> But for Florida’s struggling orange and grapefruit growers, the approvals could not come soon enough. The desperation is palpable

They feel their own economic desperation intensely. How much sympathy can they muster for the desperation of those hospitalized with a racing antibiotic-resistant infection, or their loved ones?

Many of those people will end up economically desperate, too.

The problem is that in many developed countries the agricultural lobby is so strong that they have much more leverage than any other type of citizen. In the end of the day, politicians are to blame for listening to them and allowing them to yield so much power.

Individual politicians have to muddle along balancing many factors and operate within a system which unfortunately requires loads of money to compete in elections.

Some politicians are more to blame than others: those who bend the country towards "one dollar one vote" instead of "one person one vote". Those who lend them ideological support are as bad or worse.

This maddening win by the agricultural lobby over public health is an the downstream result of privileging corporations over individuals.

It is quite possible they have been pushing the limits of what can be done with our chemical age and are now reaping the unavoidable consequences. This makes me think of permaculture gardens that look absolutely wild unless you understand the requirements to grow a target plant naturally include the other plants involved that help regulate the system.

In the very first paragraph they say "..has evaded all efforts to contain it..". I'm guessing every effort to 'contain' it involved shooting for the same output level that may no longer be easily obtainable without resorting to extremes. That which cannot be sustained won't be.

It's agriculture caused antifungal resistance[1] that really scares me.

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/antifungal-resistance.html

I wish we could spend a little political energy on banning the use of human antibiotics for agriculture. If the EU can do it, why can't we?

Florida is a swing state

Only matters to presidential candidates, not all Congressional reps.

Ban triclosan antibacterial soaps but expand antibiotic use in the food supply to include the produce department, OK.

anti-science lobby at its worst. Because the solution is absolutely safe genetically modified citrus strain.

There are still plenty of rational people out there. If we're lucky, we might be getting GMO'd citrus-green-disease fighting trees using a mustard gene in a few years:


It amazes and angers me by how much harm is done by:

1) anti-vaxers 2) anti-nuclear 3) anti-GMO

A (much) Better public education is desperately needed

Woah there. There are legitimate reasons for being anti-nuclear and anti-GMO. Ridiculous that you just lumped those in with anti-vaxxers.

Reasons for anti-nuclear and anti-GMO? You must be kidding. GMOs enable crops to grow in areas with much less water and reduce the use of pesticides and insecticides. Nuclear (even more so the newer form of it) is the safest form of energy production despite the complete paranoia about it in the public. And if you care about climate change, nuclear is certain a strong option to consider to reduce CO2 emissions drastically.

By far, the largest use of GMOs in the United States is to allow more use of Roundup.

I hate to sound like a shill for an evil company, but I've read that even Roundup-Ready crops have an environmental advantage in allowing greater use of low- and no-till methods on industrial farms, which sufficiently reduces erosion of soil (with all the fertilizer that causes algae blooms and other problems) into public waterways. I was stunned to read that a majority of US industrial farms - not only permaculture hippies - now employ such methods.

Where did you read this and how does greater herbicide use enable that?

I’d question, is it a net win for the environment and workers?

I don't have a record of exactly where I read this - it was years ago - but you can find many articles explaining the claim in a similar way by googling "roundup" and "no till". Here are some articles summarizing the pros and cons: - http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/roundup-ready-crops/ - https://pha.berkeley.edu/2014/03/02/monsanto-corporationroun... - http://web.mit.edu/demoscience/Monsanto/impact.html

The general concept is that tilling/plowing is used to mow over weeds, and killing weeds with chemicals is an alternative.

Your question is a good one. I don't know the answer. The articles listed above describe the environmental and health downsides.

A distinct problem - also described in these articles - that may spell doom for Roundup-Ready crops is the emergence of resistant weeds.

There are alternatives to industrial-scale weed control outside of tilling and herbicides. One way is to grow cover crops in the "off season", then cut them and leave them in a thick mat that starves weeds of sun while also gradually rotting and fertilizing the soil, then cut little holes in this mat where you plant seeds. The USDA NRCS promotes methods like this largely through educational programs. Farmers adopt them because they ultimately save costs on herbicides and fertilizer.

Who knows maybe in a few decades we'll produce all food through some industrial process resembling hydroponics, with energy from Nuclear Fusion replacing sunlight, and weeds will be a distant memory.

Another reason GMO is pushed by multi-nationals is because it helps the company take power away from the farmer.

Those GMO seeds are covered by Intellectual Property Law and that power lets the company controls every aspect of how that seed is used by the farmer.

And when the farmer resists it end up in court.

Do you have any source for that?

Sure, the traits are typically insect tolerance and herbicide tolerance. I guess I’m giving BT short shrift. Many crops have both traits.


Upwards of 90% of all major crops (corn, soy, cotton, beets) have BT, HT or both. Other GMO crops and traits are dwarfed by scale of this mass cultivation.


Notice that traits like drought resistance don’t come up at all.

I'm anti-nuclear waste. Get politicians on board with owning the disposal and I'd have no issues with it.

http://deepisolation.com has a solution for the waste.

That's not really a solution. The problem with nuclear is the risk of a meltdown and risk of radioactive release. Both risks must absolutely be reduced to 0% chance of occurring. In other words, reactors need to be created such that it is virtually impossible for a meltdown to occur. Likewise, the reactor needs to eliminate all radioactive waste from even being created or to confine it permanently at the site of creation.

If we are using existing reactor technology then basically these nuclear plants would basically have to built thousands of feet below ground in some sort of solid rock area and then waste areas would need to be created such that it can contain the waste for hundreds of thousands of years. If an absolute disaster were to occur then the entire underground facility would need to basically be completely sealed off permanently before radioactive dust or materials are leaked. The facility would also need to be designed such that even if a disaster occurs that an underground nuclear explosion does not occur and if it does occur that it is not so massive that it somehow bursts out to the surface or creates fissures.

Currently I am anti-nuclear based on the existing way things are run but if nuclear is implemented correctly, with safety as the most important priority, then I would support it. If I recall correctly, there is a company funded by Bill Gates that is creating micro reactors. That might have potential in the underground nuclear facility I have.

There's no shortage of acceptable solutions. The challenge is getting politicians on board.

Care to explain the solution? I tried to read the website but they don't say. (!)

You are implicitly assuming that either it is not possible to use GMO to produce something harmful that would not be impossible or much harder to produce without GMO, or that if it is possible then the commercial interests that decide how to apply GMO will refrain from doing so.

The first assumption is scientifically incorrect. GMO is just another tool for altering organisms. Whether those alterations are good or bad depends on how the tool is used. It does allow a wider range of alterations than traditional techniques, and is faster, so enlarged both the set of good alterations possible and the set of bad alterations possible.

History, or a trip to the grocery store, suggests that the second assumption is questionable.

As Uncle Ben said, with great power comes great responsibility. GMO is great power, but will the people who wield that power do so responsibly? That is not a science question.

There are legitimate reasons to have oversight and proceed carefully for all three.

All arguments I've seen against them have been really weak or intentionally misleading.

There are indirect arguments that are pretty strong.

Patented organisms let their owners extract economic rent. This covers nearly all GMO and many hybrids.

Monoculture, which you'll get when the whole industry comes to rely on a particular GMO, invites disaster. The first pest organism to defeat the GMO wipes out the entire industry.

Despite the above, I'd love to see a food company brazenly advertise products that are 100% GMO. It would be funny and might even sell really well.

-You can still grow your own non-gmo crops. It is ridiculous you're on the hook for IP infringement for gmo seeds blowing into your field, but that's a legal issue, not inherent to the concept of GMOs.

-There's no reason genetic variety can't be introduced on purpose, and pest resistance is part of what GMOs select for.

> You can still grow your own non-gmo crops.

And go bankrupt, because you're competing against GMO crops. Just like there are damn few transport companies these days using horse-drawn carriages.

I was thinking more along the lines of a home garden. Someone else in the thread claims GMO tastes worse, in which case non-GMO brands would stick around as more expensive options anyway.

> but that's a legal issue, not inherent to the concept of GMOs.

So, not an issue in theory, but in practice.

> It is ridiculous you're on the hook for IP infringement for gmo seeds blowing into your field

Incidentally, this isn't something that has ever been a real issue.

One farmer claimed it was, but it was pretty conclusively proven that he lied.

I just swap out “gmo” for “monoculture” and it makes much more sense for resistance to the food.

Among other things, industrial produce is noticeably lower quality than farmers market produce, cf tomatoes. The whole ecosystem benefits enormously from variety in produce.

How do you interpret peoples’ fear of the food?

If non-gmo produce tastes so much better then people will buy it and farmers will still grow it, but cheaply available produce is a clear win for everyone. And as I said in the other comment, you can have GMO without monocultures if the need arises.

The fear of eating it is all baseless fearmongering by the likes of homeopaths and crystal healers.

I largely agree. On specific crops this is a particularly worrying concern—see eg foreign crops. These are largely monoculture and are particularly vulnerable to eg disease. However, I see this as a lost battle.

They'll learn the lesson to introduce more variance after the first big incident, if it happens.

What makes you think the industry will survive the first?

There are no legitimate reasons for being anti-GMO.

Most GM crops fall into one of two categories: either engineered to resist chemical herbicides, or engineered to produce insecticides themselves. When herbicides are used on resistant crops, over time the weeds develop resistance, leading to the use of even more chemicals. Crops engineered to produce insecticides on the other hand produce toxins that are not only harmful to pests but other insects such as butterflies, moths and insect pollinators.

That would be a reason to be against specific uses of GMO technology. It is not a reason to be categorically anti-GMO.

The general arguments against GMO are entirely without merit, in my opinion. Moreover, their consequences are monstrous, imposing costs on the third world just so first worlders can practice a deplorable philosophical fetish (or, more banally, inflame anti-GMO passions as a kind of agricultural protectionism.)

There are legitimate reasons for opposing the widespread use of herbicides in agriculture. This practice is enabled by GMOs.

I don't buy that argument. GMOs enable the use of low toxicity herbicides, like glyphosate (demonizing propaganda notwithstanding). And herbicides allow low impact farming practices like no-till, or substitute for terrible practices like slash-and-burn in the tropics.

How much do you know about GMO crops?

Do you know what Bt corn is and how it works?

Do you know what strains of Bt have been incorporated into the various corn cultivars?

Are you familiar with the Aizawa strain of Bt?

Did you know that Aizawa Bt is extremely toxic to honeybees?

Do you think the widespread adoption and cultivation of Bt-engineeered corn crops, which of course are prolipherated through pollination to neighboring fields and into the wider ecosystem could possibly have any negative consequences whatsoever?

Do you think the near-extintion of critically important pollinating species is a legitimate reason to question incorporating highly damaging toxin-producing genes from bacteria into corn?

Like nuclear, and also like all consumer products, there have been accidents with vaccines. Unfortunately we live in an imperfect world where there is a tinge of validity to every consumer fear.



this is why we should listen to science and statistics to chose our options, not fear mongering and political agendas

Yup, but science and clinical trials show that there is x % of people who will get side effects from vaccines, while the political propaganda gives a perception that it's all 100% safe and dandy.

I'm for vaccines but there needs to be a lot more transparency and education to the public in terms of benefits/risks for each vaccine out there, because such ratio is very different from one vaccine to another (and what they are supposed to protect from). Plus, we also have to admit that all clinical trials for vaccines are done independently of each other's, and we don't really know the impact of doing 20 vaccines on the same individual versus doing only 1 in a controlled trial.

Except that we now understand it is virtually impossible for even an intelligent person to meaningfully weigh risks like this.

It's still no good reason to hide it from them.

anti-GMO means more pesticides, antibiotics, etc. GMOs are much safer and environmentally friendly solution to pesticides, herbicides, etc. Don’t even get me started on anti-nuclear (and it is off-topic here)

GMOs is a large category. Some GMOs, like those that derive their genes from other edible plants are pretty safe. Yet other GMOs might not be. You can't be in favor of all GMOs as some sort of panacea. Instead you should be in favor of them on a case-by-case basis where what gene is added from where to produce what. Adding genes to plants so that they are resistant to greater amounts of herbicide to me sounds like a bad idea as does adding proteins that kill a broad range of insects. Also ownership is a rather large issue... in that plants should not be owned by large corporations that then control the livelihoods of farmers and the food supply.



of course. And both 3 need regulations, oversight and control. But what we often see is silly anti-x propaganda

With automation, basic income and everybody having more free time this will only get worse.

The trees are over 50 years old though, even setting up new gmo orchards would take a long time.

Would grafting help?

To an extent I'd bet, but the base of the tree would still be vulnerable. Even then, I'd expect that it'd be a few years to a decade for the new grafts to really be able to produce anything significant.

Good luck producing GMO variants of all the economically important citrus varieties in just a few years. It’s easier if GMO rootstock is sufficient, but, if GMO scions are needed, it’s an enormous undertaking.

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