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The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has reopened the comment period until April 30 on a 2017 proposal to use a protein found in spinach to combat citrus greening disease. Southern Gardens Citrus, a major Florida citrus producer, plans to deliver the bacterial-fighting protein defensin to citrus trees using genetically engineered Citrus Tristeza Virus (CTV). APHIS said a new scientific paper on CTV necessitated the comment period extension, even though the paper does not change APHIS’s conclusion last year that the use of CTV does not constitute a plant pest risk. In announcing the comment period extension, APHIS said “applying (genetically engineered) CTV does not involve genetically engineering the trees.” In a comment submitted on the original permit application, Texas A&M plant pathologist Kranthi Kiran Mandadi called the technology “a vital tool that can save our citrus industry and fight citrus greening disease, and I support its approval and use.” Citrus greening disease has sharply reduced production in Florida and cost the industry billions in lost revenue. The disease has been detected in a growing number of trees in California, but has yet to be found in a commercial grove. The regulatory docket is here.
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