USDA decision nears on deregulation of genetically modified plums

The devastating plum pox virus has led scientists to create the genetically modified (GM) HoneySweet plum, making it one of only two USDA approved GM fruit trees.

Plum pox (also referred to as Sharka disease) is an invasive species in the U.S. and  considered the most damaging virus to the plum tree family.

The HoneySweet plum is purple-skinned with green flesh and was developed by researchers at the Agriculture Research Service (ARS) of the USDA, Cornell University and the Institute National de la Recherche Agronomique in France. HoneySweet plum seeds were genetically engineered with techniques that introduced low levels of the pox virus in order for the plums to become resistant to the disease and prevent infections from ruining crops.

The HoneySweet experimental plantings have been closely monitored in isolated fruit tree orchards with an outer “guard” orchard of plum trees to help monitor the potential spread of GM plum pollen. To further reduce the risk of contamination during the development of HoneySweets, pruning wood was burned and all fruit was harvested and destroyed, including the pits.

HoneySweet plums are not available for commercial production yet, but the decision from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is expected within the next few weeks, and many anti-GMO organizations and individuals are fearful that the decision will be in favor of full deregulation, as has been the case recently with GM alfalfa and sugar beets.

“Approval of C5 (HoneySweet) will pave the way for more GE food and tree varieties, as well as guarantee the widespread genetic contamination of conventional and organic stone fruit varieties, including plums, peaches, cherries and apricots,” says the Organic Consumers Association in a recent action alert to their supporters who they are urging to send letters on this issue to the Institute of Responsible Technology.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Photo: bochalla