Interests and Trade Laws: When Will We Stop the Cankercaust?
to Jeremy Sapieza for his pieces in LewRockwell.com on the Florida
citrus canker war. Iíd like to expand on them. While cutting down
hundreds of thousands of healthy trees in another of its "preventative"
efforts, the State refuses to admit that even the "experts"
are at odds about a solution to the canker problem. God forbid even
a cursory study of the problem be undertaken! Governments, and Al
Gore in particular, are always against wood producers cutting in
our "virgin" forests, but when Government undertakes a
"first-strike" cut to protect us, thatís OK.
Miami Herald of Sunday, October 29th, in an
article by Martin Merzer, had
a particularly good account of the "war" in Dade and Broward
counties, where the trees were being cut at the rate of 5,000 a
day last week, in the face of complaints that had reached almost
50,000 at that point in time.
The Herald noted:
federal and state study that triggered this yearís expansion of
the killing zone from 125 feet to 1,900 feet has not yet been published
or publicly reviewed by independent scientists, and several outside
experts say the tree-cutting blitz is out of control.
disease is not severe enough to justify this attempt at eradication,"
said Jack Whiteside, a citrus specialist and retired plant pathologist
for the University of Florida.
said canker usually produces only cosmetic blemishes in fruit and
leaves. In severe cases, it can cause unripened fruit to drop from
trees, he said, but it cannot produce gnarled branches and dying
trees as claimed by Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford and some
other state officials.
symptoms often are so subtle, Whiteside said, that the disease can
maintain a low profile for months or years before it reappears on
a large scale, regardless of eradication programs. He said canker
has ebbed and flowed in Florida since 1914.
practice, it is virtually impossible to eradicate any pathogen that
produces such mild symptoms," he said.
scientists, most of them retired and no longer dependent on state
or federal salaries or grants, told The Herald they agreed.
citrus-producing country in the world thatís humid has this disease,"
said Heinz Wutscher, a retired horticulturist who worked for the
U.S. Department of Agriculture for 32 years. "There are definitely
problems with it, but itís not the kind of thing you want to spend
$120 million on and destroy millions of trees."
the total cost is $175 million, and much of that is going to the
three main contractors who get paid $96.25 for every slashed tree:
Manny Diaz Farms, Asplundh and Ashbritt.
said other experts, some still in state government, agree with him
but are being muzzled because their bosses have close links to the
citrus industry. Crawford, the agriculture commissioner, once managed
a 3,200-acre cattle and citrus operation in Central Florida.
who are depending on their jobs cannot speak out on this issue,"
true, said Tim Schubert, chief plant pathologist at the stateís
Division of Plant Industry and a leading state expert on canker.
donít know of anyone who is suppressing their opinion about whether
this disease should be the target of eradication," Schubert
said. "Weíve been in contact with virtually every plant pathologist
with knowledge of this problem."
does agree with Whiteside on this: Canker is rarely fatal to a tree.
seen it kill some small seedlings," Schubert said. "But
in general, it will not kill a tree."
what we have here, as detailed by The Herald, is a multitude
of "sins" that come from Government Interventionism!
Federal and State studies have not been shared with the scientific
number of scientists disagree that the disease is severe enough
to justify this effort at total eradication. Most often its effects
are cosmetic, some fruit dropping, but not severe gnarling or
is world wide, and probably cannot be eradicated even at a cost
in Florida already approaching $200 million.
would also add several observations suggested at by the article,
and one that is not:
large firms getting almost $100 to cut a tree are among those
always cueing up for Government funds. Thatís not a bad payoff,
given the magnitude of this job.
firm, Manny Diaz Farms, while it has donated trees to universities
such as my own, Florida Atlantic University, was caught selling
undersized palms to Dade County involving millions of $$ and is
now in the indictment process. It is part of a larger complex
of construction and other firms that have "fed" off
the County and the City of Miami and have helped to create South
Floridaís reputation as "Corruption Central," where
many people have come to feel "honest politician" is
a contradiction in terms. That Diaz Farms should have been allowed
into the bid process and then selected is beyond belief!
researchers, especially at universities, who understand where
their money is coming had better keep their mouths shut about
"real" research results. Anyone who follows the news,
or has attended or taught in universities as I have now for 45
years, cannot but help to be aware of this situation. While not
yet at the level of the National Socialists or the former Union,
it is beyond that of Ancient Rome where Lucian described how the
intellectuals were "bought" by Caesar, and even given
Chairs of "higher learning."
we know about Nature is that it has a way of coping with such
diseases, whether in animals or plants. Canker seems to been around
in Florida at least since before 1914, probably brought here with
the citrus trees imported from around the world. Among the hundreds
of thousands of trees cut down and killed were a huge number of
healthy, but supposedly threatened trees.
what we know about the life process of selection, is it unreasonable
to assume that many of then healthy, but now dead, trees were among
those that had over many years developed some degree of immunity
to the worst ravages of canker. Those were among the very trees
we ought to be saving and building upon.
if this were such a fatal disease, one would assume plant breeders
in nurseries would have for years been breeding in that direction
as well as for better fruit, faster growing trees, etc. Certainly,
that is how one would expect events to develop in a market situation.
Real Reason for the Canker War:
next day, Monday, October 30th, The Herald had
an article by Griff Witte entitled, "Trade threat at heart
of Floridaís canker fight: Experts downplay real damage to fruit,"
that offered a truly paradigmatic insight into the issue.
number of citrus experts understand that the real threat to Floridaís
$8.5 billion industry is not how canker affects fruit, but rather
"how the bacteria disease affects trade." Jack Hearn,
a retired plant geneticist who studied citrus for the U.S. Department
of Agriculture for 33 years in Florida, said canker-related embargoes
are used as "a trade tool more than a disease-control tool."
Florida were to learn to live with the disease, rather than attempt
to eradicate it, states and other countries would have legal grounds
to halt Florida citrus from being imported. Further, if canker were
allowed, it would open U.S. markets to fresh fruits from many nations
that have that "horrible" canker disease.
what we really have is trade as a political tool of government,
along the lines of the "pork war" against Europe a century
ago, or the "beef war" against Argentina later. All of
which has now been incorporated into the thousands of pages that
make up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which document
has about as much relationship to real free trade as a Jackass has
to an Elephant!
expert is pessimistic that eradication will succeed, but that it
will now be difficult to stop. Advocates of eradication have painted
canker as so "dire" that a "strategy not involving
quarantine zones and cutting would make it hard to sell Florida
citrus outside the state," to other citrus producing states
such as California, Arizona, Texas and Louisiana, and perhaps Europe
Florida decides to live with canker, it opens the door to freer
trade since "there would no longer be any reason to exclude
fruit from Brazil or Argentina or Paraguay."
raises some interesting questions. If canker is so bad that we have
kept out the fruit from those nations above, how could their fruit
suddenly pose such a competitive threat? If their fruit is not cankerous,
then the whole phony issue is another example of Governmentís interference
with real free trade.
experts are even in disagreement as to whether canker really hurts
a tree and its fruit or not. Whiteside, the retired UF professor
cited above who published several articles on canker in the 1980s,
observes: "The rhetoric is that if we donít get rid of it,
its going to kill trees. But no one has left tree with canker alone
long enough to see what it does. I think we would see it wouldnít
expert who disagrees ends up mentioning that the disease would be
severe on grapefruit, even though it doesnít change the taste of
the fruit. What it appears to do is produce some lesions on the
grapefruit that hadnít dropped off the tree, and that might make
it less marketable.
free of the whole governmental trade policy issue, one can begin
to make a more rational market analysis of what is really involved
in the canker issue.
canker police came to examine my heroic little key line tree that
has endured all sorts of calamities. It is still there, and such
lime trees are apparently not badly effected by canker. I intend
to fight to save my tree, which not only lives, but may have a soul.
Who am I to say about such things!
than 90% of Floridaís oranges goes to juicers, so even under the
most dire of circumstances, since taste is not affected, that does
not appear to be the real problem None of the so-called experts
seem to have mentioned tangerines, tangelos, etc., so perhaps we
can assume they also neednít be cut as a part of trying to eradicate
the cursed canker in grapefruit.
the real problem is the grapefruit because it is by far the most
susceptible to canker, and almost half of Floridaís crop is sold
fresh. While only 14% of world orange production is from Florida,
the State because of its climate and up to now absence of canker,
produces 40% of the grapefruit. Everybody has oranges, it appears,
but not everybody has good grapefruit.
The Herald concludes:
of the eradication program, though, say that moving from grapefruit
to other more resistant kinds of citrus is something Florida will
inevitably have to do. They point to countries like Argentina and
Brazil that have maintained profitable citrus industries even in
the face of canker, and they wonder why Florida canít do the same.
they say, they understand why some in Floridaís citrus industry
are reluctant: If the state has to produce citrus while fighting
canker, it will face increased direct competition from those countries
doing the exact same thing.
Good Long-Range Outcome?
the massacre of hundreds of thousands of innocent varieties of citrus
in the "Cankercaust," which is really about "The
Trade Politics of Grapefruit," something good might yet come
from all of this.
believe Florida can compete in world markets for grapefruit and
other citrus as have the nations mentioned above. We still have
a climate for uniquely good grapefruit.
is time we devoted our energies to further developing canker resistant
citrus rather than cutting down thousands of such potential specimens.
Bio-genetics can probably also help in the long run, but the protectionists
in Europe and elsewhere will in the short run scream about that
trade, however, is not a one-way street. It must mean cutting free
of the narrow, mercantilist restrictions which have for so long
dogged the emergence and rise of the modern nation-state; not for
some but for all.
Study Local and State History?
have dwelt perhaps overly long on what many might perceive a local
history, in trying to show this is in reality an issue of international
the study of local and state history is extremely important for
young historians as well as all of us. International events and
even comparative civilizations, of course, appear more exotic but
there is nothing that happens at that level which cannot be duplicated
in the microcosm of our own community.
were believe that liberty and freedom are inseparable from decentralization,
then the place to start is at that most decentralized of units,
your own locality. Almost all such issues prepare us for larger
Marina is professor of History at the Fort Lauderdale/Davie campus
of Florida Atlantic University, and an Adjunct Scholar at the Ludwig
von Mises Institute. He is a "virtual professor" teaching
through the Internet and will be teaching such a course on "Freedom
and the Evolution of Civilizations" in the Templeton Foundation
International Freedom Project at Universidad Francisco Marroquin
in Guatemala next Spring. He can be reached at: http://www.wmarina.com/.
Among several books, he is the co-author of the 3rd ed.
of A History of Florida (1999), long considered the standard
history of the State, He can assure any reader of this piece that
a discussion of the "canker wars" will find its way into
the 4th edition.