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2-Plants: Hawaii Department of Agriculture rejects new hearing on modified algae

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

TITLE:  Ag department rejects new hearing on modified algae
SOURCE: Honolulu Star-Bulletin, USA, by Stewart Yerton
DATE:   17 Aug 2005

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Ag department rejects new hearing on modified algae

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture has denied a request for an
administrative hearing filed by citizens trying to block imports of
genetically modified algae to a taxpayer-financed facility on the Big Island.

The department denied the request by Na Maka o Hawaii Nei, which consists
of several advocacy organizations, saying that only the applicant for a
permit from the Department of Agriculture can request such a hearing if a
permit is denied.

The opponents filed their request in July after the Board of Agriculture
granted Mera Pharmaceuticals Inc. the right to import and grow
genetically engineered algae at the state's Natural Energy Laboratory of
Hawaii Authority on the Kona coast.

Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land, called the
department's decision "unprecedented." Curtis said aggrieved citizens
typically can contest decisions of state agencies through administrative

Generally, Curtis said, when a department rejects a request for such a
hearing, it is because the agency finds that the opponents lack standing
as aggrieved parties under Hawaii law.

"This is the first time I've heard an agency say that no one (other than
the permit applicant) has standing," said Curtis, whose organization is
among the groups that requested the hearing.

In a letter to the citizens group, Sandra Lee Kunimoto, chairwoman of the
Board of Agriculture, acknowledged that "other state agency rules may
provide opportunity for (a) hearing to a broader range of persons who
disagree with agency decisions."

But, she said, the regulations governing the Department of Agriculture
"do not reflect such intention."

Mera is working with Rincon Pharmaceuticals of San Diego to conduct tests
on algae that has been genetically altered to produce experimental drugs
meant to treat illnesses. The permit also allows Mera to grow the algae
in closed outdoor containers at the facility. The project has emerged as
a flash point of controversy, with policymakers and business leaders
pushing to make Hawaii a center for biotechnology research and
development, and environmentalists and native Hawaiian activists seeking
to protect the state's ecosystem.

In a separate action, several activist groups sued earlier this month in
state Circuit Court in Kona, alleging that the Board of Agriculture
failed to follow state laws that required an environmental assessment
before the department granted the permit to Mera. That suit is pending.

"Genetically engineered algae has never been grown at this level anywhere
in the world and the (opponents are) concerned that a potential escape of
the microscopic spores could cause extensive harm to our fragile
ecosystem," said Kat Brady, who filed the request for the administrative
hearing. "This is a great concern since the state currently spends $47
million a year on eradication of invasive species."

State Department of Agriculture:
Mera Pharmaceuticals Inc.:


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