UF Survey Shows Canker Eradication Program Has Strong Support

By:
Ed Hunter (352) 392-1773 x 278

Source(s):
Marshall Breeze mhb@gnv.ifas.ufl.edu, (352) 392-1771

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Despite the destruction of more than a half-million trees in the past year, the Florida Citrus Canker Eradication Program is viewed as necessary by nearly three-fourths of respondents in a new University of Florida survey.

“Most people seem to understand there is probably no other way to go about this,” said Marshall Breeze, an associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences who headed the study. “Roughly half the people surveyed said they strongly approve of the program, and another quarter said they somewhat approve.

“This indicates that about three-quarters of the people — give or take a percentage point — approve of what is being done to eradicate citrus canker,” he said.

UF’s Florida Survey Research Center conducted a random telephone survey of 705 homes in Dade and Broward counties in October. In the study, sponsored by Florida’s Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services, 73.3 percent of the respondents said they either strongly or somewhat approve of the state-mandated program to control citrus canker by destroying infected or exposed trees.

The survey reflected a slight drop in the overall approval rate of about 5 percentage points from a similar survey conducted in March. In the earlier study, 52.8 percent said they strongly approve of the canker program, and 26 percent said they somewhat approve of the program. The remaining were results evenly divided among respondents who either strongly or somewhat disapprove of the program or who neither approve or disapprove.

In the October study, 45.8 percent said they strongly approve and 27.5 percent said they somewhat approve.

Citrus canker is a highly contagious and incurable bacterial infection that attacks citrus trees. Since 1999, the agriculture department has been conducting an eradication program that requires the destruction of trees in the two Florida counties as well as other areas of Florida.

Breeze said support for the eradication program remained strong even among populations that would seem to have the most to lose.

“The survey asked if the respondent owned or rented and if they lived in a single-family house or apartment or condo,” Breeze said. “The feeling was that probably owners of single-family homes would be the subpopulation that would be the most affected by all this.

“But we found no difference in the level of support when we looked at it that way,” he said.

Richard Gaskalla, director of the agriculture department’s Division of Plant Industry, said the survey was designed to gauge the effectiveness of efforts to inform the public about the importance of the program.

“We were just trying to get some measurement of the viewpoint of Dade and Broward county citizens on various aspects of the eradication program and their knowledge of citrus canker,” Gaskalla said. “It was designed as a straight forward request to see if our public information and education program in that area was doing its job and what the general feeling of the citizenry was to the eradication program.”

Breeze said the overall level of support between March and October did not change significantly. He attributed the changes that did occur to the fact that more people had been affected by the program.

“By October, program officials have visited a lot more homes and removed a lot more trees,” Breeze said. “We’ve seen a little softening in overall expression of approval of the program, but it’s a small amount and its still overwhelmingly positive.

“Basically, people just slide down from ‘strongly’ to ‘somewhat’ after they lose a tree,” he said.

Gaskalla said the survey confirmed his department’s feeling that most people support the program once they understand the need for it.

“At the end of the day, if you look at this program and the justification behind it, most people are going to be OK with it,” Gaskalla said. “They may not like losing their trees, but if they are given the information on why their trees have to be sacrificed, most people are going to understand and generally be cooperative.”

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