Researchers analyze consumer preferences for gene edits in the fruit industry

by Luciana Constantino, FAPESP

In states such as California and Florida, the $3 billion orange and citrus industry is big business. More than six in ten Americans drop oranges into their grocery carts. And when they peel that orange or drink a glass of juice, they want it to taste sweet.

Enter citrus greening, a disease here to wreck your morning and the U.S. citrus industry’s bottom line. Spread by the invasive Asian citrus psyllid insect, the disease now affects every citrus growing region in the country, costing growers $975 million annually. Once infected, a citrus tree produces small, bitter fruit, helps spread the disease and then dies prematurely.

While the disease is an incredibly serious threat to growers, scientists hope to counterpunch using gene editing. This technological solution can be applied in multiple ways—for example, making citrus trees resistant to disease or reducing the viability of this invasive insect. While these technologies show promise, consumers will have to determine if the technologies are acceptable.

In a study published in Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, the University of Delaware’s Brandon McFadden, Kelly Davidson and John Bernard as well as Brittany Anderton from iBiology examined public attitudes toward gene editing. The researchers analyzed how common communication strategies impacted support for using gene editing to reduce pests and disease. McFadden, Davidson and Bernard are professors in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics within UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

This support for gene editing is good news for citrus growers and the scientists working on technological solutions. The results are also a positive forecast for other industries that will need to tap the technology in the future. But such support will require continued communication to the public.

“Public engagement with gene editing is occurring much earlier for gene editing; there is positive sentiment about potential human-health advancements,” McFadden said. “To maintain the trust of the public, it is important to communicate the potential risks and benefits associated with a specific application. But that’s not enough from a communication standpoint, because we also need to communicate the risks and benefits relative to doing nothing as well as other potential solutions.”

> Source: PHYS.ORG