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Isles' key role in GMO corn sets off battle

With top companies all having farms in Hawaii, concerns have prompted limits in two counties

By Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:44 a.m. HST, Apr 20, 2014


You can trace the genetic makeup of most corn grown in the U.S., and in many other places around the world, to Hawaii.

The state is so critical to the nation's modern corn-growing business that the industry's leading companies all have farms here, growing new varieties genetically engineered for desirable traits like insect and drought resistance.

But these same farms have become a flashpoint in a spreading debate over genetic engineering in agriculture.

Kauai and Hawaii counties have moved in the past several months to regulate genetically modified organisms and the pesticides the farms use. In Maui County, a group is collecting signatures for a ballot measure that would impose a temporary ban on the crops.

"People are very concerned, and it's my job as a council member to determine whether those concerns are valid and take steps to protect them," said Kauai County Councilmember Gary Hooser.

Hooser and the Council passed a law last year, over the mayor's veto, to require large farms to create buffer zones around their crops and to disclose what pesticides they use. The law is set to take effect in August.

Seed companies with Kauai operations — Syngenta, Pioneer, BASF and Agrigenetics — have sued the county to stop the law, saying they are already regulated by state and federal laws and there is no need for county rules.

"We don't plant anything that isn't permitted and approved through the proper regulatory agencies, be it the EPA, the FDA and USDA," said Mark Phillipson, the head of Hawaii corporate affairs for Syngenta, referring to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Hawaii's origins as a critical node in corn production date to the 1960s, when James Brewbaker, a recently arrived researcher at the University of Hawaii, noticed he could plant three crops a year in Hawaii's climate instead of one as in most places on the mainland.

Around the same time, Pioneer Hi-Bred was trying to squeeze more research into a year by using greenhouses and farms in Florida. Brewbaker suggested researchers come to Hawaii.

Seed farms grew as research expanded and more land became available as Hawaii's sugar and pineapple plantations became less competitive in the global market and shut down.

As of 2012, the most recent data available, seed crops in Hawaii were worth $217 million, up from $140 million in 2007. About 95 percent of it is corn. In all, they exceed the value of the state's next several largest crops — including sugar cane and macadamia nuts.

Developing a new seed variety takes about 10 to 12 growth cycles, Phillipson said. On the mainland, this could take 10 to 12 years. Being able to get three to four growth cycles a year in Hawaii dramatically shrinks the time it takes to bring a new product to market.

"It's getting your newest and best hybrids to market quickly," said Richard McCormack, who leads Hawaii operations for Pioneer Hi-Bred International, which has farms on Kauai and Oahu.

New genes — such as those making corn resistant to drought or floods — are inserted in a lab on the mainland.

Once federal authorities approve new varieties for planting, they're brought to Hawaii for two growth cycles or crop seasons to see how they perform in an actual field. The best ones are sent elsewhere for more growing.

Syngenta, for example, sends its best to fields in Missouri, Manitoba in Canada, and Mexico to make sure the corn is able to thrive in the soil, wind conditions and temperatures of these various places, Phillipson said.

Today, about 90 percent of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered and has been developed partially in Hawaii in this way.

The discontent, however, has been simmering.

There has been little scientific evidence to prove that foods grown from engineered seeds are less safe than their conventional counterparts, but consumer concerns and fears persist — not just in the islands but around the country and the rest of the world.

Hooser said he introduced the legislation to get good information that would allow the county to determine whether the seed companies' operations were having any negative effect on health and the environment.

Hawaii County later adopted a law banning the cultivation of genetically modified crops.

The county created an exemption, however, for papayas already grown on the Big Island that have been genetically engineered to resist a virus that nearly wiped out the fruit in years past. No seed companies currently have farms on the island, so they're not affected by the law.

On Maui, a group called Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the Aina Movement is gathering signatures for a ballot measure to impose the ban until seed companies complete environmental and public health studies finding their practices to be safe.

Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical, both have farms in Maui County.

State Sen. Clarence Nishihara predicted the wrangling over genetically modified crops will continue.

"There's no one side that's going to say, ‘OK, we had enough. We've given up on the issue,' right?" said Nishihara, chairman of the Senate's Agriculture Committee. "They'll keep fighting it."

Audrey McAvoy, Associated Press






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Wazdat wrote:
Hawaii should NOT be the testing ground for these invasive studies. This is destroying the lands and the fact the food that is grown is inedible is ABSURD.

Hawaii should be the leader in Organic food and we could be shipping food around the world that is healthy. This could produce a HUGE industry for Hawaii as well as feed the local people. Time to WAKE UP..


on April 20,2014 | 02:37AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
I've done an internet search and cannot find such evidence proving this testing destroys the lands. Can you please provide a url for a major public and private university's white paper that provides such evidence? Thank you in advance. Just curious, is there a reason why you continue to refuse to provide the information I have requested in your previous posts?
on April 20,2014 | 08:49AM
Manawai wrote:
Yes. The reason is that he's merely repeating the falsehoods he finds on the Interent. He's what you call a Google Fool.
on April 20,2014 | 12:57PM
what wrote:
Evolution is a natural process of selecting genes that show the most viable or desireable traits for long term survival.
on April 20,2014 | 02:42AM
NiteMarcher wrote:
GM foods are not the answer to the world food crisis. The root cause of hunger is not a lack of food, but a lack of access to food. The poor have no money to buy food and increasingly, no land on which to grow it. Hunger is fundamentally a social, political, and economic problem, which GM technology cannot address. Recent reports from the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation have identified the biofuels boom as the main cause of the current food crisis. But GM crop producers and distributors continue to strongly promote the expansion of biofuels. This shows that their priority is to make a profit, not to feed the world. “The climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GM industry.” Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent, “Hope for Africa lies in political reforms”, The Independent (London), 8 September 2008 GM companies focus on producing cash crops for animal feed and biofuels for affluent countries, not food for people. GM crops contribute to the expansion of industrial agriculture and the decline of the small farmer around the world. This is a serious development as there is abundant evidence that small farms are more efficient than large ones, producing more crops per hectare of land.
on April 20,2014 | 05:12AM
cartwright wrote:
Hmmmm, Sen Nishihara, the American way is to focus on the consumer. They want to have their food indicating if it's GMO or not. Same like 'previously frozen' vs 'fresh fish': No science or studies needed--just say what it is. As long as you oppose the consumer demand, you are not helping honest farming businesses to succeed.
on April 20,2014 | 06:51AM
seaborn wrote:
"The path has been cleared in Nitro, West Virginia, for the settlement of Superfund litigation against Monsanto for $93 million. The lawsuit relates to a Monsanto facility that produced Agent Orange and released toxic dioxin into a residential community, exposing thousands of people and contaminating their homes. The settlement includes long term medical monitoring of community residents and cleanup of their properties. The settlement also would allow residents to retain their right to file personal-injury lawsuits against Monsanto if medical tests turn up illnesses potentially related to dioxin exposure. Attorneys for the community, who are challenging the settlement, have 25 days to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider their petition. Medical monitoring and cleanup could start as soon as next month. This is another great example of what Monsanto calls sustainability. Should this company be messing with our food?" READ: http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140407/GZ01/140409417/1101
on April 20,2014 | 08:09AM
seaborn wrote:
"A judge has cleared the way for petitioners to begin collecting signatures for an anti-GMO ballot measure in Benton County, Oregon. The measure is designed to protect family farmers in Benton County from GMO contamination. 2,141 signatures must be collected by early August to get the measure before voters on the November ballot. Benton County follows Jackson and Josephine Counties, where similar measures will be put to a vote next month. WOOT WOOT! Backed by the Benton County Community Rights Coalition, the Local Food System Ordinance would bar genetically modified crops and patented seeds; require farmers to destroy any such crops or seeds; and assert a local right to self-determination aimed at preventing the state or federal government from overturning the ordinance." READ: http://www.gazettetimes.com/news/local/anti-gmo-measure-could-go-to-benton-voters/article_3d489690-c69d-11e3-9433-0019bb2963f4.html
on April 20,2014 | 08:10AM
false wrote:
My problem: on one hand, farmers need to make a living, and on the other, politicians need to get re-elected. Hoosier don't know science, was a realtor, then a career pol. But he knows that this issue helps him keep his job by keeping him in the press. Which is irrespective of the science. And irrespective of farm jobs.
on April 20,2014 | 10:19AM
Manawai wrote:
Hooser is also a tax cheat.
on April 20,2014 | 01:00PM
NiteMarcher wrote:
GM is not just another natural method of plant breeding. GM proponents have always claimed that GM is just an extension of natural plant breeding. This is false. Natural reproduction or breeding can only occur between closely related forms of life (e.g. cats with cats, NOT cats with dogs; wheat with wheat, NOT wheat with tomatoes or fish). In this way, the genes that offspring inherit from parents, which carry information for all parts of the body, are passed down the generations in an orderly way. GM is totally different. It is a laboratory technique that re-programmes the plant with completely new properties by inserting artificial gene units into its DNA blueprint (plan). These artificial gene units are created by joining fragments of DNA, usually derived from multiple organisms including viruses, bacteria, plants and animals. For example, the GM gene in the herbicide resistant soya beans grown since 1996 is pieced together from a plant virus, a soil bacterium and a petunia plant. The GM transformation process of plants is crude, imprecise and causes widespread mutations resulting in major changes to the plant’s DNA blueprint (1), unnaturally altering its functioning in unpredictable and potentially harmful ways (2). adverse effects include poorer crop performance, toxic effects, allergic reactions, and damage to the environment.
on April 20,2014 | 12:07PM
gofigga wrote:
This is my argument, just let the people know that their food is a product of genetic modification. I, personally have no problem with this. When I see an acre of land generating five times the yield from the GMO, then this is a good thing. Prove that it lessens a person's lifespan conclusively. Let the people know and let them make the decision for themselves.
on April 20,2014 | 01:26PM
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