GENET archive


2-Plants: Hawaii (USA) split over biotech crops

                                 PART I
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Hawaii split over biotech crops
SOURCE: Associated Press, by Paul Elias / ContraCosta Times, USA
DATE:   22 Jan 2006

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Hawaii split over biotech crops

LAIE, Hawaii - Genetic engineering saved Ken Kamiya's papaya farm on
Oahu's north shore, and it may yet rescue the orchid from the grips of a
nasty flower-killing virus.

But in Kona, Una Greenaway lives in dread that biotechnology will ruin
her organic coffee plantation. Pineapple industry officials have made it
clear they want nothing to do with genetic engineering.

So it goes in the Aloha State, where genetic engineering has riven a
state just now awakening to the fact that balmy and remote Hawaii has --
for better and worse -- long served as the world's largest outdoor
biotechnology lab.

Since scientists first planted the spectacular commercial flop that was
the Flavr Savr tomato on a small plot here in 1988, federal regulators
have approved more than 10,600 applications to grow experimental biotech
crops on 49,300 separate fields throughout the United States. More of
these are in Hawaii than any other state.

Through the powers of biotechnology, low-nicotine tobacco, disease-
resistant cotton and soy immune to weed killer are grown here. Hawaii's
genetically engineered corn projects outnumber even those grown in Iowa
and Illinois.

Biotechnology companies say the weather affords them a year-round
growing season, while anti-industry activists say the five-hour plane
ride from California gives the "gene jockeys" remoteness from prying eyes.

Whatever the reason, farmers such as Kamiya are satisfied with genetic
engineering's effects on Hawaii.

Kamiya has grown papayas, Hawaii's best selling fruit behind pineapple,
since he got back from serving in the Vietnam War in 1969. He lived
through three crop-killing epidemics and the vagaries of farming, but by
the early 1990s his farm, along with the entire Hawaiian papaya
industry, was finally on the brink of destruction. They were at the
mercy of a cureless virus.

Scientist Dennis Gonsalves, a native Hawaiian then at Cornell
University, developed the clever idea to genetically splice a harmless
piece of the virus into papaya trees -- essentially vaccinating them in
much the same way people fight the flu.

The gambit worked, and today, the virus is a mere nuisance for the $16
million industry -- even for the 50 percent of papayas grown
conventionally and without virus protection in Hawaii. That's because
the virus has fewer places to roost now.

"Gonsalves saved our butts," Kamiya said as he wandered among the
minipalm trees bearing ripe yellow fruit on the 15-acre farm he leases
from Brigham Young University, which maintains a campus in Laie some 40
miles north of Honolulu.

The day before, Kamiya spent five hours in Honolulu at a meeting helping
to defeat a proposed measure from qualifying for the ballot that would
have banned genetic engineering on Oahu island and effectively put him
out of business.

But that's precisely what Hawaiian organic coffee growers like Greenaway
and others want. They're shocked Hawaii has become biotechnology's chief
laboratory and are concerned about their economic future.

Greenaway worries that the creeping march of biotechnology in Hawaii
will soon spell her financial ruin if consumers fear famed Kona coffee
was somehow tainted by biotechnology.

Researchers in the state are attempting to genetically engineer coffee
plants to grow decaffeinated beans, which don't occur naturally. The
researchers haven't yet grown their experimental coffee plants outdoors,
even though federal regulators gave permission in 1999.

Still, Greenaway is haunted by the prospect that the work will move
outdoors, then mix with her crop and dilute her coffee's punch. She
worries no caffeine junkie paying $20 a pound for Kona coffee wants that.

"Genetic engineered coffee would be an economic disaster in Kona,"
Greenaway said.

In many ways, the biotechnology debate in Hawaii is a microcosm of the
global debate over biotechnology.

There hasn't been a single allergic reaction or other health problem
credibly connected to consuming biotech food. Still, many scientists do
worry about the threats biotechnology poses to the environment, mainly
through inadvertent cross-pollination with conventionally grown crops.
That poses a particular problem for organic farmers who charge a premium
to guarantee customers their groceries are free of genetic engineering.

The industry and its supporters proudly point out that biotechnology is
actually helping small farmers by reducing pesticide use. Close to 8
million subsistence farmers throughout the developing world are growing
genetically engineered soy and corn that require less toxic weed killer
and bug spray, making farming better for the environment and for those
toiling in the fields.

Yet, growing numbers of consumers and activists fret that the major
biotechnology companies -- specifically the titan Monsanto Inc. of St.
Louis -- are asserting a Microsoft-like grip on the world's food supply
that will ultimately kill organic and family farms.

In Hawaii alone, several anti-biotech measures have been introduced
recently in the Legislature mimicking laws in four California counties
banning biotech, though none have passed here so far. A federal lawsuit
filed last year effectively halted all experiments in Hawaii that
involve splicing human genes into plants to produce medicine.

That kind of skittishness resonates with large food producers, which in
the past have succumbed to consumers' skepticism about biotech food.

In 2000, McDonald's Corp. successfully cowed potato farmers to reject
genetically engineered potatoes. Two years ago, breadmakers forced
Monsanto to abandon its plans to market genetically engineered wheat.
And recently, pineapple industry representatives wrote the University of
Hawaii that the industry doesn't want or need biotechnology.

But Steve Ferreira, a University of Hawaii researcher working on
genetically engineered papaya, thinks those growers' sentiments would
change if they were facing the decimation of their crops.

"Their need is not as urgent as it was with the papaya farmers,"
Ferreira said.

                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Recent audit finds problems with agency monitoring GMOs
SOURCE: KHON2 News, USA, by Gina Mangieri
DATE:   16 Jan 2006

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Recent audit finds problems with agency monitoring GMOs

Genetically modified crops grow on thousands of acres throughout Hawaii
-- both commercially and for research.

A recent audit found problems in how the federal agency monitoring
biotech plants did its job.

A new division to oversee biotech crops is already in place at the
United States Department of Agriculture. But critics still have concerns
about the level of secrecy for plant experiments. And we found permits
for 2000 such experiments here since 1988.

Several major biotech farms flourish in Hawaii -- Syngenta's  corn and
soy fields in Kunia are among them.

"This food is as good as regular food, in some cases, if not better,"
says Paul Stuart, Syngenta.

Better, advocates say, because despite being derived from science,
they're good for nature.

"Tons of chemicals are not used because we have GMO products. That in
itself is a savings to the environment," says Stuart.

Genetically modified food is widespread, making up 90 percent of the
corn products we eat, and 40 percent of soy.

"As people become more knowledgeable of the process I think they may
find it's not the terrible thing some people think it is," says Stuart.

Some people, like some Molokai residents.

"Half of us don't even know what a GMO is. We don't even know what we're
growing over here," said Walter Ritte, Molokai resident, back in
November 2005.

Experimental fields make up just hundreds of the nearly 4,000 biotech
acres statewide. Their exact locations are known by only a select few.
The companies say that's to protect from tampering and vandalism.

"Nobody is telling us anything, we're afraid for our health, we're
afraid for our children's health, the cornfields surround our town,"
said Ritte.

Most commercial growth is done right next to non-genetically modified crops.

Aloun Farms reports no problems with its cabbage fields near Syngenta's
GMO cornrows.

But they encourage careful monitoring of experimental plants.

"Like everything else, it's not perfect, and that's why we have these
oversight groups monitoring because mistakes can be made," says Stuart.

Now, out of those nearly 2,000 permits for biotech experiments, several
projects never proceeded. A permit can cover an experiment as small as
one plant. Or one test field could host several different trials.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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D - 38116 Braunschweig

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