GENET archive


2-Plants: Hawaii Department of Agriculture approved trial with GE pharma algae

                                  PART I
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TITLE:  State board OKs genetically modified microalgae on Big Island
SOURCE: Associated Press
DATE:   29 Jun 2005

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State board OKs genetically modified microalgae on Big Island

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) - The state Board of Agriculture gave its
approval today to test and grow a genetically modified microalgae at a
lab near Kona.

Mera Pharmaceuticals will begin the process immediately to import the
microalgae from a California laboratory, even as opponents seek to block
the permit. The permit was approved on a six-to-two vote after nearly
three hours of testimony and an hour of discussion.

Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land, told the board that
the nonprofit organization will file for a contested case hearing.

The majority of those who testified were against the project and were
concerned about unintentional releases of the organism.

Officials from Mera told the board that the Chlamydomonas reinhardtii
microalgae is harmless to humans and has no potential to contaminate the
food chain.

Mera seeks to develop the algae into drugs to treat asthma, inflammations
and cancer.

The algae will be grown at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority.

                                  PART II
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TITLE:  Nancy Redfeather of Hawaii GEAN reports

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Nancy Redfeather of Hawaii GEAN reports

Dear GM Watch,

Yesterday, the Board of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture approved a
permit for Mera and Rincon Pharmaceuticals to begin importing immediately
7 strains of genetically engineered algae into Kona on the island of
Hawaii to be grown in an outdoor phytobioreactor system at Keahole Point
at the state's aquaculture park NELHA. These strains of Chlamydomonas
reinhardtii were engineered with 7 different monoclonal human antibodies,
hormones, and interleukins.

This type of "field trial" of a biopharmaceutical algae has never been
attempted before in the United States. All government agencies, FDA,
USDA/APHIS, and the EPA had waived oversight of the trial.

Native Algal systems have not been well documented, and basic knowledge
of algal systems and their relationship to the eco-foundations of life
were not well understood by the public or the board. Mera and Rincon's
last minute attempt to conduct basic environmental experiments of
survivability was well received by the Board of Agriculture. No peer
reviewed studies or studies of any kind proving their claims of "no harm
to the environment or human health" were included in the proposal to HDOA.

Written and oral testimony by the public was overwhelming opposed to the
project, but after 3 1/2 hours the board decided to approve the project
ignoring testimony and reports by a number of local and mainland
scientists and algae experts including R. Malcolm Brown Jr., the Johnson
and Johnson Centennial Chair in Plant Cell Biology at the University of
Texas at Austin, Professor Joe Cummins and Mae-Won Ho, Doug Sherman,
Marti Crouch, and local algae experts from UH Manoa and the State
Biologist and Maui County District Health Officer.

Imaginative projections of future revenues and the promise of a few
medium paying jobs, was enough to convince the Board to "weigh" the risks
of contamination of the algal environment and the "perceived future
benefits" to the economy.

Dr. Brown's message to the board that "Hawaii is still the supreme
ecosystem on earth to understand the dynamics of evolution and natural
selection. Let's not forever lose this opportunity because a few
commercial operations thoughtlessly tried to construct mass scaleup of
genetically modified organisms in Hawaii," fell on deaf ears. It was
indeed a sad day for the native algae of Hawaii island.

Nancy Redfeather
Director - Hawaii GEAN


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