Saturday, January 20, 2007

CA Fruit Frost Can Be Prevented

I found this interesting piece by Dr. Henry I Miller over at TCS Daily which notes that the fruit growers of California could have saved some $1 billion in fruit had they been allowed to spray a bacterium that prevented the formulation of ice particles. While I could wax on and on about this marvel in agricultural science, I figured I'd let an expert like Dr. Miller, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, fill you in. Here's a look:
In the early 1980's scientists at the University of California and in industry devised a new approach to limiting frost damage. They knew that a harmless bacterium which normally lives on many plants contains an "ice nucleation" protein that promotes frost damage. Therefore, they sought to produce a variant of the bacterium that lacked the ice-nucleation protein, reasoning that spraying this variant bacterium (dubbed "ice-minus") on plants might prevent frost damage by displacing the common, ice-promoting kind. Using very precise biotechnology techniques called "gene splicing," the researchers removed the gene for the ice nucleation protein and planned field tests with ice-minus bacteria.

Then the government stepped in, and that was the beginning of the end.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified as a pesticide the obviously innocuous ice-minus bacterium, which was to be tested in northern California on small, fenced-off plots of potatoes and strawberries. The regulators reasoned that the naturally-occurring, ubiquitous, "ice-plus" bacterium is a "pest" because its ice-nucleation protein promotes ice crystal formation. Therefore, other bacteria intended to displace it would be a "pesticide." This is the kind of absurd, convoluted reasoning that could lead EPA to regulate outdoor trash cans as a pesticide because litter is an environmental "pest."

At the time, scientists inside and outside the EPA were unanimous that the test posed negligible risk. (I wrote the opinion provided by the Food and Drug Administration.) No new genetic material had been added, only a single gene whose function was well known had been removed, and the organism was obviously harmless. Nonetheless, the field trial was subjected to an extraordinarily long and burdensome review just because the organism was gene-spliced.
If the government would only find its way out of private sector more often I believe the farmers in CA would still have $1 billion in crops, consumers would have to pay higher prices on fruit as well as the double whammy of having to foot the emergency subsidies that will be given to the farmers. Folks are better off heeding Ronald Reagan's old adage
"government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem," when the government starts to drift into the realm of the private sector.

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