Natural Foods Merchandiser

A pox on organic plums

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting public comments between now and July 17 on a petition that would allow commercial growing and marketing of the first genetically engineered plum trees. According to California Certified Organic Farmers, "The USDA admits that this GE plum will contaminate both organic and conventional non-genetically engineered plum orchards if it is approved."

"The proposed buffer zones between GE plums and other plums will not prevent genetic contamination from being spread by pollinating insects," according to a statement on CCOF's Web site.

USDA is interested in growing the trees to combat the plum pox virus, which severely decreases fruit production in stone fruit trees. It exists in Europe and Canada, but at the time CCOF posted its message the virus had not yet made its way to America. However, last Friday, the USDA confirmed the discovery of the virus in Adams County, Pa. "A single tree in an 8-acre block of peach trees has tested positive for the virus, and only one grower is affected. In total, 15 acres of stone fruit trees will have to be removed as a result of the detection," said Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff.

While the Adams County tree represents the first commercial tree affected by the virus, two residential properties with infected trees, also in Pennsylvania, have been identified.

For details on the Plum Pox Eradication Program, visit

CCOF has posted "talking points" that can be cut and pasted into comments sent to the USDA. To submit comments, go to . In the "Agency" box, select "Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service" from the drop-down menu; select "NOTICES" as the Document Type and APHIS-2006-0084 as the "Keyword or ID." Then press "submit" to submit or view public comments; click just beneath "Add Comments" and scroll down to submit your letter.

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