Tag Archives: Dennis Gonsalves

GMOS Safe, Dennis Gonsalves a Big Island Hero

After an enormous amount of research, the verdict is in: GMO foods are safe. The Big Island’s Dennis Gonsalves, who designed the virus-resistant Rainbow papaya, is a hero.

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine examined almost 900 studies, conducted over the past 20 years, and heard from 80 speakers.

The Academies’ mission is to provide “independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conduct other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions.” They say there is no evidence GMO crops cause human health risks or environmental problems. Details  here.

But still, here in Hawai‘i, I am ashamed. One of our own saved the papaya industry with genetic engineering and we just threw him under the bus.

Dennis Gonsalves is a Hawaiian and retired professor of plant pathology at Cornell University. He was at the forefront of developing the virus-resistant Rainbow papaya. His work brought the Big Island’s dying papaya industry back from the brink. Without it, we flat out would not have a papaya industry today.

Did you know that people from all over the world fly Dennis Gonsalves in for help? They honor him and ask him for help with their crop problems.

Here, though, our own people demonized and sacrificed Dennis. It makes us Hawaiians look like idiots.

GMO Hysteria

Remember back in late 2013 when the Hawaii County Council voted on whether or not to ban genetically engineered crops? It was near-hysteria. The County Council brought in a yogic “flyer” with no scientific credentials to testify about GMOs. They refused to listen to our own scientists. We actually had to listen to the self-proclaimed GMO “expert’s” testimony for 45 minutes.

Amy Harmon wrote a very good article for the New York Times about that time. She wrote about County Council member Greggor Ilagan and his impressive effort to actually research genetic engineering.

Now the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine confirms that GMOs are safe, and we know that our County Council was wrong to approve a ban on them.

We’ve gone from anti-science hysteria to knowing GMOs are safe, but there’s a native Hawaiian casulty — a local guy from Kohala that people all over the world honor.

We should be praising Dennis. We should be holding him up for young people to be inspired by. He’s a hero and I’d like to see us honor him. It was very shortsighted and unfair that we did not stand up for him. We should all be ashamed.


Genetically Engineered Papaya as Collateral Damage

Richard Ha writes:

Anthony Shelton, an international professor of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, has written a 12-part series on Hawaiian papaya (he  calls it the "tragic papaya"), which he calls "collateral damage in the global debate on biotechnology." 

I'm linking to the series here:

Hawaiian Papaya: Collateral Damage in the Global Debate on Biotechnology

Article placed online: March 19, 2015

Hawaii’s Big Island has banned or severely limited the farming of genetically engineered (GE or GM) crops, a papaya developed by a native Hawaiian to resist a devastating virus disease. The battle over GE crops and the law enacted in Hawaii is a microcosm of the global fight determining the future of GE crops.

This 12-part series by entomologist Anthony Shelton is the first comprehensive article about a genetically engineered crop, in this case, GE papaya in Hawaii. The story describes the virus disease outbreak, the development of virus-resistant GE papaya, small-scale farmers who adopted it, the emergence of the opposition and their takeover of the democratic process, the scientist who developed the technology, and the future of GE crops.

Click on chapters below to start reading the article:

1. Tropical hurricane ‘Anti-GE Papaya’ hits Hawaii

2. Storm victims, Ross Sibucao and other smallholder farmers

3. Enter Hawaiian papaya scientist, Dennis Gonsalves

4. BB guns, intellectual property and the road to commercialization 

5. When local politics trumps science and farmers

6. The organized but ill-informed opposition

7. The hurricane gathers force

8. Where’s the science?

9. GE facts, fiction and fear

10. Few win, many lose

11. Path of destruction and collateral damage

12. A ‘Rainbow’ ending?

13. Current update on the status of GM papaya in Hawaii

14. Photo Credits


‘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….

‘What if GMOs are the Only Option?’

Richard Ha writes:

Universities in the public sector are supposed to do things in the interest of the public. One example here is that the University of Hawai‘i developed the Rainbow papaya. How come Hawai‘i County passed a bill banning all new GMOs? In the larger view, are we going to be able to feed all the people in the world without new biotech crops?

In the following video, scientists from Cornell, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times writer Amy Harmon, and local boy/father of Rainbow papayas Dennis Gonsalves discuss the anti-GMO phenomenon.

The title is "Modifying the Future of Food: What If GMOs Are the Only Option?, Cornell Reunion 2014."

I have looked at this issue from all angles. If I were not convinced that it was safe, I would not have participated in a lawsuit challenging the anti-GMO bill on the Big Island. An overwhelming majority of farmers and ranchers on the Big Island, like the people on the panel, are very concerned that the correct story is not being told. 



Scientists With Heart & Common Sense

The scientists at Pacific Basin Agriculture Research Center (PBARC) in Hilo are pursuing their project of “zero waste.” The objective is to utilize all the byproducts of agriculture production in a sensible way.

Their funding had been cut to the bone. But Director Dennis Gonsalves and the scientists there are refusing to give up. They are doing it because they believe in sustainability for Hawai‘i.

This is Marissa Walls, research food technologist at PBARC, and Dennis Gonsalves.

Gonsalves and walls

I wrote previously about their algae-to-oil for waste papaya. They started with a test tube of a specially evolved algae that preferred papaya as its food, and it produced oil.

They started the papaya algae-to-oil trial at a 1-liter scale.

This is a short video clip of the algae on a shaker.

Now they are scaling up the process to a 5-gallon size. I was there to witness the first batch being done. First they took the papaya mixture into a special hood, where filtered air was brought in causing positive air flow out of the front. This prevented unfiltered air to come in from the outside.

1.5 live transf to 5 gal

Just before taking the 5-gallon bucket to the next room, they took a sample of the mixture to test for contamination. If mixture is contaminated by something that grows faster than the algae, they’ll know.

3. taking sample

Here is Dr. Gonsalves transferring the first of the 5-gallon batch. Note that the bucket is a plain plastic bucket. They got it from Home Depot.

Taking to grow room

Because they don’t have funding for a lab, they are using a space under the stairwell of the PBARC building. The algae functions in the dark, so they have black plastic taped to the stairwell to maintain the dark.

Under stairs

There the mixture will be constantly stirred. Instead of a shaker, the 5-gallon bucket mixture is agitated by what looks like a paint mixer.

Dr. Gonsalves tells me that they are getting batches of new evolved algae as they go along, and after a bunch of tweaking by these smart scientists, they have got the oil yield up to 35 percent. After the 5-gallon scale, they will go to 50-gallon and then to 1000 gallons. The mixing, sterilizing and dewatering procedures will change as appropriate for each scale.

I can very easily relate to that. It’s exactly what we did when we scaled up our farm from one acre to 600 acres. These are common sense scientists. I could not be more impressed.

One of the scientists is now looking into the nutritional content of the leftover algae cake. I can’t wait to see if it can be used for fish food. Just imagine, farm waste to oil and then the leftover for fish food. Sounds like common sense to me.

Dr. Gonsalves’ objective is to have real numbers and actual oil for evaluation within a year.

This project is impressive because it focuses on value to society as its end result. Many times, money as an end result goal takes us in a direction we don’t want to go. This project’s focus, and its methods, are simple and practical.

We farmers characterize it as common sense. Nowadays, that is high praise.