GENET archive


REGULATION / PLANTS: Genetic engineering ban bad for Hawai'i

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Genetic engineering ban bad for Hawai'i
SOURCE: The Honolulu Advertiser, USA
AUTHOR: Commentary by Adolph Helm
DATE:   13.03.2007

Genetic engineering ban bad for Hawai'i

Adolph Helm is president-elect of Hawai'i Crop Improvement Association
and project manager for Dow Agro-Science research site on Moloka'i. He
wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.

The moratorium bills on genetically engineered taro and coffee undermine
development of Hawai'i's science and technology industries and put at
risk their high-paying technical jobs. The bills are needless for a
number of reasons.

The University of Hawai'i agreed more than a year ago that genetic
engineering research on Hawaiian taro would not proceed until
discussions with the Hawaiian community are completed. UH has a similar
agreement with the Kona coffee growers, in which field testing of
genetic engineering research will not be conducted until discussions
with them are completed.

Therefore, it puzzles us why legislation is needed at all -- unless it is
an attempt to hijack legitimate cultural concerns and the concerns of
some coffee growers in the service of a broader philosophic and anti-
scientific agenda.

If we truly want to expand Hawai'i's economy beyond a service/tourism
industry, we must embrace the latest in responsible science and
technology. That is where graduates of our local colleges and
universities will find opportunities that help them find well-paying
jobs in Hawai'i.

Yet, the prospect for success is in jeopardy. Should the anti-biotech
taro and coffee measures become law, Hawai'i will be the first state in
the nation to ban a genetically engineered crop.

This would make us the nation's leader in anti-science public policy,
which would send a chilling message to potential investors. Such
investments are critical to the future of Hawai'i because they are tied
to the economic aspirations we all have for our state.

Crop biotechnology helps reduce or eliminate the application of crop
protection chemicals and increases the productivity of our farmlands and
forests. New crops currently in development will help improve nutrition
and human health. Those who adopt a zero tolerance attitude toward
genetic modification threaten to deny everyone these benefits by playing
on fear of the unknown and fear of change. More than 30 regulatory
agencies in 22 countries, plus prominent international scientific
authorities, have concluded that biotech crops are as safe as
conventional crops.

Agricultural biotechnology enables researchers to target specific plant
traits and develop solutions to agricultural challenges more quickly and
more precisely than conventional techniques --solutions that otherwise
might not be possible.

In the case of taro, the need for such efficiencies could not be more
pressing. A wide variety of pests has led the number of named Hawaiian
varieties to decline from more than 400 in the early 1900s to fewer than
60 today. To prevent further loss, taro could benefit from the use of
all plant-breeding technologies, including biotechnology.

The same is true for our coffee crops, which are becoming infested with
root knot nematode. The Hawai'i Coffee Growers Association is so
concerned about it that they testified against the proposed moratorium
on field testing of biotech coffee. They are the only statewide
organization representing growers, who together farm Hawaiian-grown
coffee on approximately 5,000 acres. Since the HCGA doesn't want a
moratorium, why would we force it upon them?

Crop biotechnology could also potentially benefit Hawai'i's native
wiliwili trees, which last year were devastated by attacks from gall
wasps, and banana crops under attack from banana bunchy top virus.

Naysayers need only look to our papaya industry, which was devastated
during the 1980s because of attack from papaya ringspot virus. Were it
not for the introduction of the Rainbow papaya, which was genetically
engineered to resist the virus, we would not have a viable papaya
industry today.

The potential applications seem endless. Therefore, at what point do we
draw the line against using biotechnology to solve pressing problems in
our environment?

The political process should not be misused in this way. Instead, the
Hawai'i Crop Improvement Association believes in laulima (working
together). Solutions for the future of taro and coffee in Hawai'i should
be found -- not in legislation but through discussion among the
respective communities affected, the University of Hawai'i College of
Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, farmers and others.

The challenge for such discussions is to provide for all our needs in
ways that reduce the negative impact on the environment while also being
culturally and socially acceptable as well as technically and
economically feasible. Compromise and cooperation among the native
Hawaiian community, government, industry and academia is essential for
coexistence, which is the key to sustainability.

Equally important is the need to safeguard the development of a viable
science and technology industry in Hawai'i as a means to ensure new and
better opportunities for generations to come.

Meanwhile, farmers will always be able to plant conventional varieties
of taro and coffee. And, they should always have the right to choose
their preferred growing methods, which could include the tools of
biotechnology as one way to improve plant varieties and ensure
sustainability among threatened crops.

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                                  PART II
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TITLE:  Misconceptions persist about GE Chinese taro
SOURCE: Star Bulletin, USA
AUTHOR: Susan C. Miyasaka
DATE:   18.02.2007

Misconceptions persist about GE Chinese taro

A BILL that has passed the Senate (SB 958) and one now in the House (HB
704, which passed out of the Agriculture Committee last week) would
place a 10-year moratorium on testing, propagating, cultivating, raising
and growing genetically modified taro. These bills are based on the fear
that genetic engineering will contaminate the genetic identity of
Hawaiian taro. I would like to correct some common misconceptions about
the genetic engineering of taro:

 First, the taro varieties patented by the University of Hawaii are not
GE varieties. They were conventional crosses resulting from hand-
pollination of a Hawaiian variety with a Palauan variety.

 Second, no attempt was made to insert foreign genes into any Hawaiian
taro variety.

 Third, the only taro variety that we genetically engineered is Chinese
taro Bun long. We have inserted several disease resistance genes -- from
rice, wheat and grape -- into this Chinese taro variety. In preliminary
tests, one line of GE Chinese taro appears promising because it
completely stopped the spread of the leaf blight in tissue-culture.

 Fourth, GE Chinese taro lines have been tested only in the laboratory.
To find out whether this promising GE Chinese line really is resistant
to leaf blight, testing in small, contained field conditions is
necessary. Under small, contained field trials, accidental movement of
foreign genes from GE Chinese taro to non-GE taro varieties is easily
avoided by careful surveillance for and removal of flowers.

Let us look at the scientific facts about taro. Taro is a crop that is
grown for either its leaf or its starchy corm (underground stem).
Chinese taro Bun long rarely flowers under the environmental conditions
of Hawaii. Unless Hawaiian taro varieties are hand-pollinated, they
rarely produce seed capable of developing into whole plants. In order
for foreign genes to move from a GE Chinese taro to a Hawaiian taro, the
Chinese taro would need to flower (rare event), the pollen would need to
move to a flowering Hawaiian taro (an infrequent event), seed would need
to develop (rare event) and seedlings would need to germinate and grow
into whole plants (rare event). What are the chances of this occurring?
Extremely low.

There is a deadly viral complex in the South Pacific that would kill all
Hawaiian taro varieties if it ever reached Hawaii. In the Solomon
Islands, there is a "time of hungry" when sweet potatoes cannot be grown
due to high rainfall, but taro cannot be grown either because it is
killed by the viral complex. Genetic engineering for viral disease
resistance saved the papaya industry in Hawaii. It has the potential to
improve disease resistance in taro, too.

I believe that a win-win situation is possible. Modify the bills in the
Senate and the House to place a 10-year moratorium on genetic
engineering of Hawaiian taro only. Please let the members of my team
continue their research to improve disease resistance on GE Chinese taro
under the jurisdiction of university, state and federal guidelines. Let
us work together to ensure that taro will be here for future generations
to enjoy.

Susan C. Miyasaka is an agricultural scientist at the University of
Hawaii-Manoa who has studied ways to improve taro yields, including
testing of taro varieties conventionally bred for increased disease
resistance, organic farming and genetic engineering of Chinese taro to
increase its hardiness. She has never received funding from a
multinational company that profits from GE crops. An update of her
research results on GE Chinese taro can be downloaded from the following
Web site of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources:, or mirrored
here: Update-GE-Dec14-06.pdf.

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                                  PART III
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Bills that are alive, or failing, at the Capitol
SOURCE: The Honolulu Advertiser, USA
DATE:   11.03.2007

Bills that are alive, or failing, at the Capitol

Here is the status of the major bills at the halfway point of the 60-day
legislative session. The bills that are alive have passed in at least
one chamber of the Legislature. The bills that are failing were not
approved by either the House or Senate by last Thursday's initial
deadline. But failing bills can be revived, measures can be rewritten
and lawmakers can change their minds




Genetically modified taro
(SB 958 SD 1 HD 1)
Places a 10-year moratorium on the development of genetically modified taro.

Genetically modified coffee
(HB 1577 HD 1)
Temporarily prohibits growing genetically modified coffee, but allows
research in environmentally secure facilities.


read more at the Hawaii State Legislature

SB958 SD1 HD1

HB1577 HD1

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