US (FL): Scientists gather to discuss citrus disease threat

A sense of urgency hung over the opening day of the 2013 International Conference on HLB as more than 500 scientists from across the globe gathered Monday to discuss a disease threatening to wipe out Florida's $9 billion citrus industry.

During the five-day event, researchers from 22 different countries will pore over a wide array of potential antidotes to HLB, also known as citrus greening, including bio-controls, antibiotics and genomics. The Conference is hosted by Florida Citrus Mutual, the country's largest citrus grower organization.

"We are fighting for our lives against this insidious disease and we know a solution lies in the laboratory," said Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual. "A critical part of the research process is getting scientists together in one place to discuss results, data and innovations and this is exactly why we created the HLB Conference."

"All of these scientists are keenly aware that the future of our industry is at stake."

HLB, or citrus greening, is found in all of Florida's 32 commercial citrus producing counties. The bacterial disease is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid and it attacks the vascular system of citrus trees often killing them within two years. University of Florida economists estimate HLB has caused $4.5 billion in economic damage while eliminating more than 8,200 jobs since being discovered in 2005.

"The continued increase in infection in Florida citrus is cause for alarm, and aggressive efforts of the industry to organize research may provide the only answers. Progress in many areas of research offer promise to slow spread, reverse the health of the infected tree inventory, and allow growers to eventually replant with disease-resistant trees," said Dr. Harold Browning, Chief Operations Officer of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation. "The question is whether we can accomplish this soon enough. Thus the Conference is a vital part of scientists sharing progress and updating the industry on progress, and warrants support from the Florida industry."

The Florida citrus industry creates a $9 billion annual economic impact covering about 550,000 acres. Founded in 1948, Florida Citrus Mutual is the United States' largest citrus grower organization.

For more information, visit www.flcitrusmutual.com


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