Hawaii County set itself apart from much of the rest of the state in December by effectively banning the large biotech seed companies that have become a major, though controversial, part of Hawaii agriculture.
But with a ban also on the outdoor testing of transgenic crops, can the Big Island, home to genetically modified papaya, still be a place for genetic research?
Six months later, the answer might be clearly no for some researchers while a bit hazy for others.
Because of the law, Russell Nagata, Hawaii County administrator for the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, said his staff will not pursue genetic engineering.
“It will prevent us from using biotech as a solution” to agricultural issues, he said following a panel discussion on genetic modification Thursday evening.
“It forces us to look at it in a different manner. It may be slow, it may not be as effective.”
Scientists interviewed say growing modified crops, that are still under development, in open fields is necessary to test their effectiveness.
While they say they take steps to prevent the spread of genes, including the removal of plants before flowering, critics of genetic modification believe outdoor testing presents too much risk. They also question the approval process.
“We are looking at the precautionary principle,” said Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille during the panel discussion sponsored by the Hilo chapter of the American Association of University Women. Wille introduced the bill restricting the use of transgenic crops.
Under the county’s law, testing can occur but it must be done indoors.
At the time the bill was adopted, Nagata said his office was not conducting any genetic research.
For those with projects already in progress, the law might provide less certainty.
Michael Shintaku, a plant pathologist at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, said he is continuing his research on creating lettuce resistant to the tomato spotted wilt virus but is unsure of whether he can get it approved with the current restrictions. Continue reading ‘GMO ban, research at odds?’