Tag Archives: Biotech

Ohia & Biotech

Richard Ha writes:

It turns out that ‘ohi‘a dieout is tied to a fungus.

The American chestnut was almost wiped out by a fungus, too. But a biotech solution might save the American chestnut.

Maybe a biotech solution can be found to help with the ‘ohi‘a fungus as well.

From the Hawai‘i Tribune-Herald:

Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Experts call it the single most important tree for the protection and proliferation of native forests across the state.

The ohia is the most widespread, as well as arguably the most beloved and iconic, native tree in Hawaii. And for the last five years, it has been under attack by a troubling new foe that had foresters and scientists scratching their heads.

Until recently.

A scientific paper currently under review reports findings that the disease, known as Rapid Ohia Death, is the result of a fungal pathogen called Ceratocystis, which has been found on other plants here including Okinawan sweet potato and taro. But this is the first instance of it killing ohia.

Read the rest


Law of the Splintered Paddle & Today

Richard Ha writes:

Kamehameha's Law of the Splintered Paddle has modern-day application. To those who aspire to be ali’i as they point their fingers in the air and pronounce what we must do to preserve the past: do not forget the rubbah slippah folks. 

You who want to be our ali‘i, our leaders – I don't see you leading us forward, but only back. You want to keep everything the way it used to be, while we are marching into crisis.

The rubbah slippah folks have the right to disagree with the (self-proclaimed) ali’i if those "ali‘i" do not take care of the people.

Read this historical note, from Wikipedia about the "removal of chiefs" due to the mistreatment of common people intolerant of bad government:

It has been noted that Kānāwai Māmalahoe [the Law of the Splintered Paddle] was not an invention of Kamehameha I, but rather an articulation of concepts regarding governmental legitimacy that have been held in Hawaiʻi for many prior generations. Countless stories abound in Hawaiian folklore of the removal of chiefs – generally, but not always, through popular execution – as a result of mistreatment of the common people, who have traditionally been intolerant of bad government. As a shrewd politician and leader as well as a skilled warrior, Kamehameha used these concepts to turn what could have been a point of major popular criticism to his political advantage, while protecting the human rights of his people for future generations.

The price of oil is four times higher than it was ten years ago and the price of everything is through the roof (and still going up). More and people people cannot afford to live here; in fact, more Hawaiians live outside Hawai‘i than on these islands. Isn't that the same as losing our land?

How are you addressing that? How is trying to shut down our geothermal resource (which will substantially reduce our electricity costs), trying to outlaw our biotech options (which will substantially reduce our food costs), and trying to keep out the TMT (which will open up all sorts of new options), helping our people?

The world is changing. There is more and more homelessness. More than half of all Hawaiians no longer live in Hawai‘i. Young folks cannot find jobs. Farmers are getting older and older, because young people are not going into farming.

What will happen to the rubbah slippah folks in the face of finite resources? Those who aspire to be ali‘i, remember this: "You cannot be ali’i if you cannot feed the people."

  • Geothermal is a gift from Pele that will protect us from electricity and other costs that are spiraling out of control. Why would anyone aspiring to be ali’i want to take away this gift in the face of declining resources?
  • The Thirty Meter Telescope brings our young people great opportunity and inspiration, and it brings the island economic gain, jobs, and more than $50 million in cash to a fund for the education of our keiki. Why would anyone aspiring to be ali’i take these opportunities away from our future generations?
  • Biotechnology is a tool that will safely feed our people. Why would anyone aspiring to be ali’i take  this tool away from farmers trying to feed the people? Farmers representing ninety percent of the farm sales on the Big Island favor using biotech tools. Why look to outsiders for advice when Big Island farmers are telling you what you need to know?

If it wasn't used in pre-contact time, it's bad? Is that really your thinking? Would Kamehameha agree?


‘Teaching People To Fish’ Through Biotechnology

Richard Ha writes:

Dennis Gonsalves and I had lunch at Zippys awhile back with Lawrence Kent of the Gates Foundation. Lawrence told us the Gates Foundation is sponsoring GM plant research to help the poorest of the poor. It’s a significant project, though just a small percent of the whole Gates Foundation effort.

I asked him about commercial banana research. He said they don’t do anything with commercial projects. Oh shucks, I thought.

But Dennis Gonsalves is working with Lawrence on a virus-resistant cassava project for Africa. Can you imagine: Local Kohala boy Dennis Gonsalves working with the Gates Foundation to help save lives of the poorest of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa? Wow.

I wrote about Hillary Clinton talking about the State Department moving from emergency feeding of the poor to GM plants that provide people with solutions they need to sustain themselves. Replacing emergency feeding programs with GM solutions gives farmers biotech tools to enhance their food production and vitamin content and more.

It’s kind of like the old saying: Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.

Golden rice is an example of this kind of humanitarian effort. Another is the vitamin A-enhanced banana developed in north Queensland, Australia that was recently announced.

From ABC.net.au:
By Louisa Rebgetz

Updated Sun 15 Jun 2014, 8:56am AEST
Genetically modified bananas grown in far north Queensland and bound for Africa are about to undergo human trials in the United States

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers have engineered the fruit to increase the amount of beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body.

The aim is to prevent thousands of children in East Africa from dying or going blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency.
Also, here’s an interesting 2011 New York Times article about Dennis Gonsalves:
Published: September 21, 2011 
PUNA, Hawaii — His shoes crunching through volcanic grit on the Big Island’s eastern shore, Dennis Gonsalves walks into a grove of juvenile papaya trees. The renowned plant pathologist eyes the bulbous green fruit stack up the trees’ trunks. In a few months, harvest will arrive, each tree shedding two or three papayas a week

Working in the shadow of a volcano, farmers in Puna, the heart of Hawaii’s papaya industry, harvest a bounty of healthy fruit each year. It’s a far cry from 15 years ago, when a devastating virus swept through the groves. The trees withered. Their leaves grew to resemble craggy bird claws. The fruit was pockmarked with ring-shaped spots, hallmarks of infection. The island’s papaya tradition seemed at an end.
Today, the trees’ leaves are thick as a giant’s fingers as they dance in the trade winds. The yellow-fleshed papaya will be sold to Los Angeles or San Francisco or fed to Honolulu’s throngs. Stopping at one thriving specimen, Gonsalves cannot conceal his pride.
“This one here,” he said, “you come six months from now, it’ll be loaded with papaya.”
A bit of paternal glow can be allowed. After all, Gonsalves invented the tree….

Biotech Solutions to Bad Problems

Richard Ha writes:

Dr. Michael Shintaku shared this article with me. It’s about a biotech solution to a blight that was threatening the American chestnut. 

American chestnut set for genetically modified revival

16:30 30 May 2014 by Andy Coghlan

The near-extinct American chestnut looks set to make a comeback. Genetically modified trees, which are resistant to a deadly fungus that has decimated the species, have produced the first resistant chestnuts. From these seeds, countless resistant trees could be grown in the wild.

An estimated 4 billion American chestnut trees (Castanea dentata) once covered the US, accounting for a quarter of all US hardwood trees. But in around 1900, a lethal fungus called Cryphonectria parasitica was accidentally imported in chestnut trees from Asia, and by the 1950s it had almost completely wiped out the American chestnut….

Read the rest

Hopefully, here in Hawai‘i we can be prepared in case a fungus starts killing off all our ‘ohi‘a trees.

The rose apple trees in East Hawai‘i are currently all dying from a fungus; have you noticed? The dying trees are everywhere.

All the mai'a maoli and popoulu cooking bananas, which came from the south way back when with the Polynesian settlers, are gone now, because they got Fusarium Wilt.

Don't we want to have tools that will help us preserve our heritage and other valuable plants?


Plant Breeding Goes High Tech

Richard Ha writes:

Have a look at this very clear, responsible and easy-to-digest overview of biotech. It was created by the UH’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) and its very dedicated, competent and locally-focused professionals who are friends to all of us.

The first of its two pages (clickable):


Right on, Dr. Ania, for making the subject of biotech so clear and understandable.

The Big Island seems to have taken a machine-gun approach to this subject, such as with the recent anti-GMO bill. The bullets hit all of our farmer friends, the ones here on the ground, instead of their intended target (the large seed companies).

It’s time now to clean up and undo the unintended consequences. Mayor Kenoi is right: We need to get on with the business of growing food!

Click to see the whole February 2014 issue of Biotech In Focus. Back issues are available on CTAHR's website, too.

And if you’d like to be on the mailing list so you’re notified of future issues, drop a note to Dr. Ania Wieczorek.


Big Island Cuts Off Nose, Spites Face

Richard Ha writes:

According to Hawai‘i Rural Development Council surveys, food security is Hawai‘i’s number one priority. “Difficulties faced by local farmers” is number 3, and “GMO agriculture” is number 5.

Banning GMOs (a much lower priority issue) threatens our food security (our most important concern).

I say this all the time because it’s so important to remember: If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm. We need our farmers farming in order to have food security here in Hawai‘i. We need to work toward that end.

One way to do that is to remember that agriculture and energy are inextricably tied together. Working toward having low-cost energy here on the Big Island will strongly benefit both our farmers and the rest of our people—it lowers food cooling costs for both farmers and their customers. It will help the farmers to farm, which will increase our food security.

We are lucky to have the option here of generating electricity with geothermal. Geothermal-generated electricity is similar to oil in its characteristics. It is steady. And very importantly, it costs only half as much as oil and will not run out anytime soon.

It’s all related. Geothermal energy means lower electric bills, for both farmers and consumers. Lower electric bills means farmers keep farming, and consumers have more food security out here in the Pacific where we important 80 percent of our food or more. Lower electric costs also mean consumers have more discretionary income, and that helps our local economy.

Banning GMOs (a.k.a., biotech solutions to farming problems, which all our competitors will be able to use) moves us in exactly the wrong direction.


Our Right To Farm

Richard Ha writes:

Thirty members of the Hawai‘i State House of Representatives just introduced the Right-To-Farm bill, which the Big Island Farmers and Ranchers United support. Farmers just want to go back to farming already.

From Civil Beat:

New Bill Would Strengthen Hawaii’s Right-To-Farm Act

Hawaii Rep. Richard Onishi from the Big Island has introduced a bill that would give Hawaii’s 2001 Right to Farm Act more teeth. 

The law currently protects farmers from nuisance lawsuits, stating: “No court, official, public servant, or public employee shall declare any farming operation a nuisance for any reason if the farming operation has been conducted in a manner consistent with generally accepted agricultural and management practices.”

Onishi’s bill would take the protections a step further and declare that the counties can’t pass laws that limit the rights of farmers and ranchers…. 

Read the rest

The anti-GMO bill that recently passed on the Big Island would prevent only Big Island farmers – and not their competition – from using biotech options and solutions to agriculture situations. It’s a disastrous bill that threatens our island’s food security, rather than strengthens it, which is where our focus should be.

Everybody is happy that this new bill came up, and really pleased so many legislators signed on. We feel that they recognize that we really just need to get back to our farming.

If the Right-To-Farm bill passes, then finally we can have the very important discussion about food security that we have not been able to. Agriculture and energy are inextricably tied together, and the question is:

How will our current and future energy situation affect our food security? And what can we do about it?


Our Newspapers Need To Cover The News

Richard Ha writes:

Where are our local newspapers?

Why does it take the Honolulu Star-Advertiser to back up our island’s local farmers and ranchers, and to point out that agricultural policy should never be set without the participation of the people producing our food?

This is what appears to be happening in Hawai‘i at the moment.

An excerpt from yesterday’s Star-Advertiser editorial, which talks about the Big Island’s recent passage of the “anti-GMO” bill 113:

“The state Legislature may be able to undo this wrong, but it will take true leadership and real political courage. Lawmakers should assert the state government’s authority over agricultural rules and enforcement, rather than standing by as the counties continue to impose undue burdens on local farmers.”

The article also asserts: “It’s time for elected officials and policymakers throughout the state to stand up and be counted. Let’s have an ‘Eat GMO Papaya Day.’ This food is safe, it’s affordable and it’s grown right here at home.”

And why does it take the Star-Advertiser to point out that our policies are exhibiting an unwarranted distrust of University of Hawai‘i specialists in tropical agriculture?

State must take lead in GMO debate

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 12, 2014

That a Big Island councilwoman would seek to revive a bill banning all genetically modified crops on Hawaii island, even though strict limits on such agriculture were approved only a month ago under another bill, indicates just how emboldened biotechnology foes have become in their quest to control Hawaii farmers.

The measure is not expected to pass, and should be rejected. It should not, however, be ignored, especially on Oahu. Councilwoman Brenda Ford’s proposal signals that rather than taking responsible action to assess the impact on local agriculture of the newly approved Bill 113, some elected officials are willing to put productive local farmers flat out of business. Login for more…

WHY does it take reporter Amy Harmon from the New York Times to tell us what is happening on our own island?

A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops


JAN. 4, 2014

KONA, Hawaii — From the moment the bill to ban genetically engineered crops on the island of Hawaii was introduced in May 2013, it garnered more vocal support than any the County Council here had ever considered, even the perennially popular bids to decriminalize marijuana.

Public hearings were dominated by recitations of the ills often attributed to genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.s: cancer in rats, a rise in childhood allergies, out-of-control superweeds, genetic contamination, overuse of pesticides, the disappearance of butterflies and bees.

Like some others on the nine-member Council, Greggor Ilagan was not even sure at the outset of the debate exactly what genetically modified organisms were: living things whose DNA has been altered, often with the addition of a gene from a distant species, to produce a desired trait. But he could see why almost all of his colleagues had been persuaded of the virtue of turning the island into what the bill’s proponents called a “G.M.O.-free oasis.”

“You just type ‘G.M.O.’ and everything you see is negative,” he told his staff. Opposing the ban also seemed likely to ruin anyone’s re-election prospects.

Yet doubts nagged at the councilman, who was serving his first two-year term. The island’s papaya farmers said that an engineered variety had saved their fruit from a devastating disease. A study reporting that a diet of G.M.O. corn caused tumors in rats, mentioned often by the ban’s supporters, turned out to have been thoroughly debunked.

And University of Hawaii biologists urged the Council to consider the global scientific consensus, which holds that existing genetically engineered crops are no riskier than others, and have provided some tangible benefits.

“Are we going to just ignore them?” Mr. Ilagan wondered.  Read the rest

Enough is enough.

Our newspapers need to report the news.

And our leaders need to step up and be accountable.

GMO Facts? Or Fiction?

Richard Ha writes: 

State Senator Russell Ruderman used his own company’s letterhead when he submitted anti-GMO testimony recently to the Hawai‘i County Council. He owns Island Naturals, the natural foods markets.

It certainly seems to be a conflict of interest for him to be supporting the Big Island’s anti-GMO movement, and he should recuse himself from all discussions and votes regarding GMOs. Submitting testimony on his company’s letterhead does not help lessen this impression of his having a serious conflict of interest.


He also wrote an article for Big Island Weekly recently, titled GMO Facts and Fictions, which he says is the first in a series of installments.

What’s most interesting are the comments that follow his article, like this one from Karl Haro von Mogel, Ph.D. Candidate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics, UW-Madison, Chair, Biology Fortified, Inc. Von Mogel is highly educated on issues regarding GMOs, and he wrote this:

I applaud State Senator Ruderman's desire to clear up confusion about genetically engineered crops, but in this 
opinion piece, he has made a great number of outright falsehoods that 
further confuse the topic and muddy the waters. I am a plant
 geneticist who studies this topic very closely and is building a 
database of all peer-reviewed scientific studies on genetically 
engineered crops, so I am very familiar with this field. I will attempt 
to correct the most egregious of Ruderman's errors.

He goes on to correct many of what he calls Ruderman’s "outright falsehoods" in detail. It's a very long comment.

Ruderman responded with this:

As mentioned in my column, I will be addressing these studies in more detail in future columns. I look forward to discussing the Seralini study, which, in addition to showing serious effects from GMOs, illuminates the aggressive tactics of biotec companies in suppressing science it doesn't like. These studies point to the need for long-term follow-up studies, which have not been done. I will also clear up the confusion of how Bt affects humans by disrupting our essential gut bacteria, which is not understood by some of the previous commenters.

And then von Mogel, who is highly educated on the science of biotechnology, responded with this:                              

Mr. Ruderman, you have made a series of very outlandish and false claims about Bt that you did not support with any evidence. This comment of yours would have been the time to at least give us links to the studies that you say exist, or to correct the record. Saying that you are putting off supporting these claims with evidence until some future column suggests that you don't have such evidence. Indeed, I was very direct in saying that for some of the claims you made, there is not a single study that even remotely suggests anything like that – such as your claim that the genes have transferred to our gut bacteria.
By bringing up the Seralini study, you are changing the subject. Seralini's (now retracted) study did not involve Bt at all, so it does not support any of the arguments you have made. Indeed, there have been long-term feeding studies with Bt. There have been feeding studies that look at effects on gut bacteria and conclude that there are none. As I said, I am intimately familiar with the scientific literature on this topic, and I can help you find answers to your questions. 
As a State Senator, it is your duty to consult with scientific experts – especially those in Hawaii who work for the state that you represent – so that you can make decisions based on established scientific facts. Hawaii needs leaders who can represent both the concerns of the population and duly weigh the evidence to make informed decisions. Will you be that leader?

We need to hold Senator Ruderman to a higher standard than he's holding himself to, because he's our elected official and making decisions on behalf of all of us.

There are other interesting comments there, as well. They’re by far the most interesting thing about that article, in my opinion. Read them all here.

I have asked Senator Ruderman many times how his stance, which does not even seem to be supported by science, will help the Big Island and its food security status. How will it help the rubbah slippah folk in his district? I have never received an answer.