Anti-GMO Bill 79, Farmers & Science

Richard Ha writes:

Hawai‘i County Councilmember Margaret Wille is planning to
resubmit an anti-GMO bill – because, she says, her fellow council members
generally recognize there is a need to restrict any further introduction of GMOs
here on the Big Island.

And yet, after talking to the other council members, farmers
don't think Councilmember Wille is correct about that.

Note, too, that she has not bothered to meet with the farmer
groups affected
– those who produce most of the food grown here on the island –
and we can only assume she does not want their input.

In an earlier note, Wille indicated that if GMO crops were
allowed, that would be the end of organic, natural farming and permaculture

Actually, the reason organic farming does not produce more
food is actually because its cost of production is very high. This would not
change with Councilmember Wille's bill.

The result of her bill passing would actually be more expensive food for the Big
Island's people.

One of the basic reasons Bill 79 is not fair to conventional
farming is because farmers on other islands would be allowed to use new biotech
seeds for nutrition improvement, disease prevention, heat tolerance and other
labor and cost saving methods, while Big Island farmers would not be able to do

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus is an example of a very serious tomato
disease. If farmers on other islands are allowed biotech solutions to such
diseases, while Big Island farmers are not, that could be the difference
between Big Island tomato farmers surviving or not.

It could also be the difference between whether conventional
farmers continue farming, or do not. Yet Councilperson Wille has chosen to not
even meet with farmers.

In this morning’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Maria Gallo
wrote an excellent commentary
on genetically modified foods. She is Dean of the
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and Director of Research
and the Tropical Extension Service at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. She
writes from a knowledgeable, scientific background.

Not all
genetically modified foods the same and a blanket ban on them would be

Maria Gallo

years, I taught a course on genetically modified organisms.

we covered the biology behind GMOs so that students had the science background.
Then we described agricultural systems so that they understood the challenges
facing food production.

we reviewed the applications of GMOs so that they knew the products being used
along with their benefits and risks. And last, we discussed the controversy
surrounding GMOs.

objective was to develop students' critical thinking skills so that they could
make informed decisions….
Read the rest (subscription required)

Gallo points out that the GM technique itself is not harmful,
and that, in fact, new GM traits aim to do things like reduce how much water crops use, through drought tolerance; to reduce saturated fats and allergens in foods, and to increase
disease-fighting nutrients in food. She warns that a blanket ban on GMOs in
Hawai‘i, when we are already in a position of so little food self-sufficiency,
would be short sighted.

In yesterday's Hawai‘i Tribune-Herald, Michael Shintaku
had a letter to the editor
along these same lines. He points out that “Supporters of this bill were surprised that so many farmers
rose in opposition
,” and says, “Please talk to a farmer before supporting these
.” He makes some excellent points. From his letter:

“Bill 79 and efforts like it are terrible
mistakes. It is fear-based legislation that comes from the misunderstanding
that biotechnology is too dangerous to use…. Biotechnology is young, and we
haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet.”

“Bill 79 would
condemn all biotechnological solutions based on irrational fear….There is no
credible argument on this point in the scientific community. This issue is
pretty much settled.”

He asks that we “Please allow Big Island farmers, who
are among our best friends and neighbors, to use the best technology available.”