EPA Approves Permit for Spinach Protein Tests in Citrus HLB Fight

Dan Citrus, Florida, General

EPA Grants Experimental Use Permit to Southern Gardens Citrus and Establishes a Temporary Food Safety Tolerance Exemption to Allow Wider Testing of Spinach Defensin Technology Against Citrus Greening Disease

CLEWISTON, Fla. (U. S. Sugar Corp. Release) – May 7, 2015 – In a landmark step in the fight against citrus greening disease, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved Southern Gardens Citrus’ (SGC) application for an Experimental Use Permit under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. This allows SGC to move forward in its development of the possible use of a protein derived from spinach that appears to help control this devastating disease.

Citrus greening disease, or Huanglongbing (HLB), is the most serious citrus disease in the world. HLB was first identified and confirmed in Florida in 2005. HLB is now found in every Florida county where citrus is grown commercially. Notwithstanding the threat that HLB poses, there are no successful control programs yet available for this disease.

SGC is one of the largest citrus producers in the state, with three groves in southwest Florida, all of which are infected with HLB. Over the last several years, SGC has worked tirelessly to find an efficient and effective solution to this very serious disease.

SGC’s activities include participation in a wide variety of research projects focused on developing environmentally sound and scientifically proven methods to manage and control the disease. To reach this goal, SGC is working with several universities and state and federal agencies, including the University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the U.S Department of Agriculture among other independent researchers.

The EPA granted the new Experimental Use Permit (EUP) to SGC on April 30, 2015. The EUP authorizes large scale tests of citrus plants containing the protein derived from spinach, which SGC has developed through a research program with Texas A&M University. Consistent with the conditions established by the EPA, SGC may now move forward with field tests to evaluate the efficacy of the spinach protein against HLB in citrus plant tissues and continue generating the environmental, health and safety data that are required under federal law to support a fully registered product for commercial use. On the basis of SGC’s related petition, EPA also concluded that residues of the spinach protein in citrus are safe for the public, and established a temporary allowance (known as a tolerance exemption) to cover this.

Rick Kress, president of Southern Gardens Citrus, states that “since this disease was first detected in the company’s groves in 2005, the immediate decision was to become as proactive as possible to learn about the disease and at the same time, develop methods and procedures to deal with the disease on a day-to-day basis. The company directed a research focus toward spinach because it is already safely consumed daily and should be more favorably received by consumers. It is important to state that as all U.S. regulatory controlled field trials and evaluations are on-going, there is no citrus fruit or juice product from the tests in the commercial product market today.”

Kress notes that a final solution to eliminating this disease may still take some years, but the latest EPA action and continuation of all research projects are major steps in the right direction.