2-Plants: GMOs a huge subject of debate on Hawai'i
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TITLE: GMOs a huge subject of debate
SOURCE: The Garden Island, USA, by Andy Gross
DATE: 7 Aug 2005
------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------
GMOs a huge subject of debate
Like it or not, the world of biotech, or genetically-modified organisms
(GMOs), is upon us in a big way on Kaua'i.
The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association (HCIA) is an industry association
representing members who produce seed crops valued at $60 million for
2004-2005, utilizing about 3,500 acres of the 8,000 available statewide
A vast majority of these seed crops are corn, including Pioneer's station
Proponents of biotech say it is safe, tested, and a viable solution to
create more food globally on less land. The most commonly grown biotech
crops are corn, soybeans, cotton and canola.
Opponents argue it is a Pandora's box of potential future problems, and a
huge economic question mark concerning who it actually benefits.
A United Nations study determined that workers in the world's agriculture
industry produce 1.5 times as much food as they need to feed the world's
entire population, and that starvation is a matter of entitlement or
faulty distribution, said Will Fulton, of GMO- Free Kauai.
Fulton asked, "Why are we giving these corporations huge tax breaks to
conduct open-field experiments on our islands?
"The state Department of Agriculture keeps telling us that this industry
could be worth billions to the Hawaiian economy. They've been repeating
that same sentence for over a decade. When are they going to show us some
actual numbers?" Fulton wondered.
"It's the continuation of what's been going on for 10,000 years," said
Dr. Harvey Glick, director of scientific affairs at Monsanto, a biotech
giant, in defending biotech as just another evolutionary step.
The HCIA leaders contend that, among other things, biotech crops do not
threaten beneficial insects or animals, and that biotech is not
detrimental to organic farming. The HCIA officials also claim that
biotechnology does not pose a threat to native Hawaiian taro and that
biotech plants in Hawai'i cannot crosspollinate with indigenous species,
so that they don't threaten the purity of native varieties.
And while HCIA representatives are touting GMOs as a safe,
internationally-accepted, efficient way to create stronger, more-pest-
resistant crops on less land, not even their supporters can be sure of
what might happen in the future.
Glick said he could not say that genetically-modified, seed-related food
that has been deemed safe today by leaders of regulatory agencies such as
the federal Food and Drug Administration, the National Academy of
Science, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, would necessarily be
safe 20 years from now.
Or that, because of evolution, no one can say for sure there won't be
modified insects and predators keeping pace with seed and crop changes.
"You can't know that," Glick admitted. "But the issue of food security is
a huge one now anyway," he said.
Dr. Cindy Goldstein, manager of business and community outreach as well
an as expert in crop genetics and development for Pioneer Hi-Bred
International, Inc., a subsidiary of Dupont, outlined biotech's strengths.
These include far greater crop yield on less land, less plowing, which is
good for the environment, less use of pesticides, and locally, a rebound
in the Hawai'i papaya industry due to virus resistance.
In 2003, Pioneer Hi-Bred International leaders came under investigation
for their management of field trials of genetically-engineered corn in
Hawai'i, including some Kaua'i fields, according to an April 24, 2003
article in The Des Moines Register.
Officials in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined leaders of
the Des Moines-based company $9,900 in 2002 for planting a test plot of
biotech corn too close to a seed crop, and ordered the company leaders to
test the seed corn for genetic contamination from the experimental
plants. The EPA officials said that the testing turned up contamination
from a second plot.
The EPA officials also announced at the time that Pioneer leaders had
been fined $72,000 for failing to report test results within the required
EPA enforcement officer Amy Miller said there was no risk that the food
supply was contaminated, because the plants that tested positive for the
biotech gene were destroyed before pollination.
However, Greg Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a
private advocacy group, said the case raises questions about federal
oversight of genetically-engineered crops.
Some big questions
"Why would growing pesticidal corn or herbicide-tolerant soybeans be
important to the economy of remote oceanic islands?" Fulton asked.
Glick said this is the ninth year GMOs have been in use. He said an
enormous amount of study and regulation preceded the actual introduction.
"They say GMOs are regulated and safe, at least for now, but they don't
know about the long term," said Fulton.
"Regulation of genetically-engineered organisms is a myth. Supposedly,
they are regulated by the USDA, the EPA and the FDA," Fulton said.
"But, in fact, genetically-engineered organisms were early on declared
'substantially equivalent' to the organisms they resemble, and therefore
required no special regulation. The federal regulatory agencies do not do
any independent testing of GMOs. They just take the word of the
manufacturing corporations," he said.
As to whether GMOs should be labeled as such, Fulton said, "Independent
testing of the health effects of GMOs on the population cannot be
conducted if there is no way to collect data as to who is consuming GMOs
or to what extent, which is the case since they're not labeled.
"You would think that if the GMO manufacturing corporations really
believed that their products were so great that they would be leading the
charge to have those products labeled. If they're so proud of it, why are
they hiding it?" Fulton wondered.
"They say there is no danger in GMOs pollinating (or) affecting other
crops because of genetic specificity. The science has not been done to
prove this," he said, though biotech officials argue this is not the case.
Those opposed to GMOs argue that pollen is carried by wind, birds, bees,
farm equipment, and humans over a range of distances. Spread of
herbicide-resistant genes into weedy relatives has created "superweeds."
Fulton said, perhaps most dangerously, "what is happening in the critical
world of soil microbiology as experimental biotech crop root exudates
invade that world? We say, 'Do the science first.'"
While the HCIA leaders talk about increasing food for the world, Glick
noted that much of what is produced is largely in developed countries,
and is processed into oil or used more as feed for animals than food for
He pointed out that a small farmer using GMOs to grow corn could benefit
directly either from a larger crop for sustenance or for sale, but the
most widely modified products are soybeans, corn and cotton.
According to various Web sites, GMOs result when specific genes from any
organism (plant, animal, virus, bacteria) are put into the genetic
sequence of another organism using recombinant DNA techniques.
Other terms used for this technology, or its products, are genetic
engineering (GE), biotech, transgenic, and genetic modification (GM).
Wide support for biotech
According to several biotech web sites it's not just seed manufacturers
who support crop biotechnology. Some 31 regulatory agencies in 17
countries plus prominent international scientific authorities in the U.S.
and throughout the world have stated that biotech crops are as safe as
According to HCIA officials, in 2004, biotech crops were grown on more
than 200 million acres in 17 countries, most of them in North and South
America, Spain and parts of South Africa, China and Australia.
Among those authorities include the National Academy of Sciences, World
Health Organization, European Commission, French Academy of Science,
American Medical Association, United Nations Codex, and 3,400 scientists
from around the world including many Nobel Prize winners.
Their conclusions reflect the results of thousands of biotech studies
that have been conducted to date according to those sites.
How is it done
According to information from several GMO Web sites, both pro and con,
gene manipulation is done in a laboratory.
A section of DNA, (the basic unit that determines an inherited trait), is
isolated and forced into the DNA of another organism with the assistance
of a viral vector, usually by coating tiny pellets of gold with DNA and
literally firing these pellets at cells with a "gene gun."
Sexual reproduction is bypassed entirely, along with natural species
barriers. Using recombinant DNA techniques, genes from jellyfish have
been moved into pigs, and human genes into plants.
A cell that takes up the new genetic sequence is then cloned. An entire
crop is created from just one cell.
According to sources with GMO-Free Maui, approximately 79 percent of GMO
crops on the market have been modified to be resistant to herbicides,
mostly Roundup, which is manufactured by Monsanto Corporation.
These crops, known as "Roundup-Ready," enable farmers to spray entire
fields with herbicide without damage to their crop. Roundup-ready crops
are responsible for huge increases in herbicide sales and applications.
Approximately 21 percent of GMO crops on the market have been engineered
with an insecticide in every cell of the plant, including the harvested
seeds used for food. Herbicide-resistant and insecticidal crops comprise
nearly 10 percent of GMO crops on the market.
The GMO papaya is one of the few exceptions, and is resistant to the
papaya ring-spot virus. However, GMO papaya trees are more susceptible to
fungus diseases, and are routinely sprayed with toxic fungicides.
State support and forums
According to biotech leaders, the Hawai'i state Legislature, for example,
has sanctioned biotech forums that the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation
(HFBF) will conduct among farmers. These forums are designed to discuss
production practices, common concerns, and interests as they relate to
coexistence with conventional, organic, and biotech farming. Members of
the state Legislature have asked officials in the state Department of
Agriculture to submit a report on the HFBF forums 20 days prior to the
start of their 2006 session.
At the same time, biotech forums are also being held by leaders in the
University of Hawai'i's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human
Resources (UH-CTAHR) and the Hawaii Institute of Public Affairs.
Questions and answers, from GMO-Free Maui's Web site:
Internationally, there is consumer backlash against GMOs. While United
States leaders are promoting biotech foods, officials of many other
nations throughout the world have been enacting laws and policies that
restrict or prohibit the growth and sale of GE crops. Many foreign
countries require labeling of genetically-engineered foods and ingredients.
What is being gene-spliced into foods? Genes from bacteria (including
those for antibiotic and herbicide resistance), viruses, insects, nuts,
fish, and animals are presently spliced into common food crops.
"Synthetic" genes are also used. More than 75 percent of processed foods
in the U.S. contain genetically engineered ingredients due to widespread
use of GMO canola, soy, corn, and cotton seed oil by U.S. food
processors. Most Hawaiian papayas are transgenic, containing virus,
antibiotic-resistant, and e coli bacteria genes.
How is health affected by genetically-engineered food? There are no
requirements for long-term or independent testing of GMOs. A number of
studies over the past decade indicate that genetically-engineered foods
can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, and wildlife.
Human-health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity,
antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression, and cancer.
How can I choose to avoid eating genetically-engineered foods? No laws
exist in the United States to allow labeling of GMO foods. Organic
agriculture rules do not allow the cultivation of genetically-modified
crops. Purchasing or growing organic food is an excellent way to avoid
consuming biotech foods.
The use of genetic engineering in agriculture could lead to uncontrolled
biological pollution, threatening numerous microbial, plant and animal
species with extinction, and the potential contamination of non-
genetically engineered life forms with novel and possibly hazardous
Leaders in Denmark imposed a ban on glyphosate, the active ingredient in
Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, in 2003. It was discovered that the
herbicide had been moving down through the soil and polluting the ground
water at a rate five times higher than the level allowed. The European
Union leaders also have a GMO-labeling requirement, though HCIA officials
pointed out Spain is amongst the most enthusiastic supporters of biotech.
The HCIA is comprised of five member companies that produce commercial
quantities of biotech seed: Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.,
Monsanto, DOW AgroSciences, and Syngenta, as well as the Hawaii
Agriculture Research Center and 96 individuals.
European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
In den Steinäckern 13
D - 38116 Braunschweig
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