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2-Plants: Citizens sue for environmental review of biopharm algae in Hawai'i

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Citizens Sue For Environmental Review Of Biopharm Algae in Hawai'i
SOURCE: EarthJustice, USA
DATE:   2 Aug 2005

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please download the complaint at:

Citizens Sue For Environmental Review Of Biopharm Algae in Hawai'i
Lawsuit Seeks Further Study of Consequences of Genetically Modified

Honolulu, HI-- Today, citizen groups `Ohana Pale Ke Ao, Kohanaiki `Ohana,
GMO Free Hawai`i, and Sierra Club, Hawai`i Chapter, represented by
Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of the State of
Hawai`i, against the Board of Agriculture, State of Hawai`i, challenging
the approval of a permit to allow the production of potentially dangerous
genetically modified microorganisms on the Big Island.

The permit allows biotech company Mera Pharmaceutical to import and
produce in a state facility in Kailua-Kona, Hawai`i Island seven novel
strains of "biopharmaceutical" algae genetically modified to produce
unapproved experimental drugs. The suit seeks to compel the BOA to comply
with the Hawai`i Environmental Policy Act by reviewing the potential
environmental impacts of the project. The suit also seeks to invalidate
the BOA's approval and stop the project from proceeding until the
mandated review process is complete.

"The law requires the State to fully examine the potential impacts of
bringing these alien, drug-laden algae to our islands," said Earthjustice
attorney Isaac Moriwake. "The government and public need to understand
the potential impacts and available alternatives before this experiment

The genetically engineered strains of algae have never been introduced
anywhere outside the laboratory. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
has never approved a pharmaceutical substance produced by the GE algae
for human consumption by, nor are their effects on humans and the
environment known.

The alga used in the experiments, Chlamydomonas, is a common
microorganism that exists in water, soil, even snowfields, can be
transported in the air, and can survive a variety of harsh conditions in
a dormant stage. Native strains of Chlamydomonas are known to exist in
Hawai`i, which experts say are unique to these islands. This raises
concerns of the biopharm algae not only spreading on its own, but also
crossing with the native strains.

Mera Pharmaceutical seeks to manufacture large quantities of the biopharm
algae for experimental purposes outdoors, in large plastic containers
called "photobioreactors" at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii
Authority, a state-owned technology park on the Kailua-Kona coast on the
island of Hawai`i. Such large-scale, outdoor production compounds the
risks of escape and contamination of the surrounding environment.

"Islands are fragile ecosystems. We've seen salvinia molesta on Lake
Wilson, coqui frogs on the Big Island, and invasive algae along the
shores of Maui and Waikiki. We do not want to see something like that
happen on the Kona coastline. It is imperative that environmental review
be done," said Karen Eoff, President of Kohanaiki 'Ohana.

"Algae have been the building blocks of life on Earth for 3 billion
years," said Jeff Mikulina, Director of the Sierra Club. "Surely we can
spend a few extra months ensuring that genetically altering algae won't
have unintended consequences."

The plaintiff groups are particularly concerned because the NELHA
facility lies in a sensitive coastal environment that is cherished and
regularly used by local residents, including Native Hawaiians. A popular
camping ground, surfing spot, and beaches are located nearby, as well as
numerous wetlands and brackish anchialine ponds which host native and
endangered species and support legally protected Native Hawaiian cultural
practices of gathering and access. A national park is also located in the

"These algae are a foundation of life in all water and soils. The large-
scale, outdoor production of their genetically modified forms practically
rolls out the red carpet for their release into the environment," said
Nancy Redfeather of `Ohana Pale Ke Ao. "We need to exercise more prudence
and precaution before introducing such drug-producing algae into our
pristine Hawaiian ecosystems."

This case marks the first time ever the state has had to make the sole
decision whether to allow the import of a GE organism into Hawai`i. The
federal agencies usually responsible for regulating GE organisms -- the
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and the
FDA -- have all disclaimed jurisdiction over the biopharm algae.
Chlamydomonas, however, is on the state Department of Agriculture's "list
of restricted organisms" under its quarantine laws. Further, DOA staff
determined that the biopharm algae posed an "above moderate risk," which
means that the BOA must approve the project. The DOA made this
determination based on the lack of federal oversight, the DOA's lack of
experience with GE Algae, concerns regarding large-scale production
outdoors, and the "unknown effects on the environment if accidentally

Also, because the biopharm algae project will use state lands, it
triggered HEPA's requirement of environmental review. This involves a
process whereby the BOA, with the full participation of the public, must
evaluate the impacts of a project and its alternatives in an
"environmental assessment" and, if the EA indicates that the project
"may" have a significant effect on the environment, a more extensive
"environmental impact statement".

At several lengthy hearings on the proposal, the BOA received a flood of
public testimony from concerned individuals throughout the state and even
from the mainland, including local residents, Native Hawaiians, farmers,
businesspeople, doctors, and scientists, who questioned the project and
urged the Board to examine the potential impacts in a HEPA document. At
the second meeting on June 26, 2005, the BOA approved the application
without even mentioning HEPA.

"Shortcutting the legal process does nothing to ensure the protection of
public health and the environment, or to foster public confidence in such
projects," said Moriwake. "The state should just comply with the law by
fully examining the potential impacts of this project in full public view."

Contact Info:
Isaac Moriwake, Earthjustice (808-599-2436)
Nancy Redfeather, `Ohana Pale Ke Ao (808-322-2801)
Jeff Mikulina, Sierra Club (808-538-6616)
Una Greenaway, GMO Free Hawai`i (808-328-8888)
Karen Eoff, Kohanaiki `Ohana (808-938-3580)


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