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CNN Today

Contagious Canker: Florida Desperately Fights to Save Orange Industry

Aired February 4, 2000 - 2:27 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: A desperate battle is being waged in south Florida. At stake: the state's second-largest industry.

CNN's John Zarrella explains how a tiny bacteria could be threatening Florida's economy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thick, pungent smoke rises from piles of burning citrus trees. A highly-contagious bacteria called citrus canker has Florida agriculture officials so concerned that even if a single tree is infected, the entire grove is bulldozed and burned.

VIVIAN MYRTETUS, CANKER ERADICATION PROGRAM: Unfortunately, there's no chemical compound or cure against citrus canker. The only means to eradicate it is to destroy infected and exposed trees.

ZARRELLA: Canker does not affect humans, but it blisters leaves and fruit and reduces the trees' ability to produce. It's been found all over south Florida, from backyards to the lime groves.

KEN BAILEY, DIR., CANKER ERADICATION PROGRAM: Wind-blown rain is one of the best ways that you have in disseminating this disease, and consequently we have found, so far, 23 infected groves.

ZARRELLA: While the disease has crippled the $20 million lime industry, agriculture officials are more worried about Florida's $8 billion-a-year orange and grapefruit industry further north. Canker in the big-money groves would be devastating to the state's economy. Sweet deals, like one to ship fruit to China, could be jeopardized.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, very tasty.

ZARRELLA: If it's not stopped, the canker could keep citrus fruit off breakfast tables across the U.S. To contain the threat, more than 500 square miles in south Florida are now under canker quarantine.

BAILEY: We're trying to contain it at one location, at this point, in Dade and Broward County on the East Coast.

ZARRELLA: That means, in the quarantine area, commercial fruit must be inspected before it can be shipped, citrus from backyard trees can't be taken off the property and infected trees are cut down.

The canker fight has been going on for five years. Agriculture officials say the quarantine and the slash-and-burn method of eradication helps them buy time until a cure is found.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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