Monday, March 17 marked the beginning of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association (HCIA)/Hawaii Chamber “Biotech Week” in Honolulu. Well-attended by employees of the seed companies and many farmers at the state capital and elected officials, the event reminded everyone of the importance of biotechnology in the agricultural community of Hawaii. During my time there, I was able to hear first-hand accounts of the role that biotech has played in the survival of the papaya industry and the impact of the current Hawaii County ban of GM crops on papaya farmers and ranchers.
The Rainbow Papaya Story is still very much familiar to not only the papaya famers of Hawaii but to the general public as well. In the 1950s, a devastating papaya ringspot virus spread on island of Oahu causing severe economic loses. Papaya production then had to move to the Puna area of the Big Island in the 1960s, but, by 1997, the virus had almost destroyed the industry. Production of Hawaii’s fifth largest crop fell by nearly 40 percent, farmers were going out of business, and Hawaii’s once $17 million papaya industry was struggling to survive.
Then biotechnology becomes the island’s lucky charm. In 1997, the U.S. government concluded its regulatory review of the first genetically engineered papaya variety named Rainbow, which includes a gene that makes the papaya plants resistant to the ringspot virus. Commercialized in 1998, the genetic improvement had not only begun to show promise for the Hawaii papaya industry, but production actually began to return to levels near where they were before the papaya ringspot virus invaded.
Each week, we will answer a question from our readers regarding our operations and community outreach in the State of Hawaii. Submit your question by visiting the contact page. Thanks for reading. Mahalo!
Q: I’ve heard that Monsanto Hawaii wants to put smaller farmers out of business. Is this true?
This is absolutely not the case and, in fact, the exact opposite is true. Monsanto Hawaii is 100% focused on agriculture and our mission is to help fellow farmers succeed through the use of innovative practices and tools that empower farms to produce more food, fiber and fuel, while at the same time conserving natural resources and operating more sustainably.
As an agriculture company, we believe we have a responsibility to work collaboratively with our fellow farmers to promote a strong and successful Hawaii ag industry. Some of our efforts to help other farmers throughout Hawaii include:
- The Hawaii Agricultural Foundation Ag Park at Kunia promotes sustainable local farming by making land and other resources available to small local farms growing a variety of produce and other crops. The Park was created through an innovative partnership between Monsanto Hawaii, Island Palms Communities and the Hawaiian Agricultural Foundation.
LIHUE, Hawaii (AP) — The Kauai County Council has authorized spending $75,000 to hire attorneys to defend a new law regulating the use of pesticides and genetically modified crops by large agricultural businesses.
The 5-0 council vote, taken Wednesday with two members absent, will allow the county attorney to hire outside legal services to answer a lawsuit filed in federal court last month by Syngenta Seeds, DuPont Pioneer and Agrigenetics Inc., which does business as Dow AgroSciences.
County officials will select special counsel from a pre-qualified list of 17 attorneys, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
The county had initially planned to rely on donated services, and several firms had previously offered pro bono legal help.
But the county said it received only one response to its formal request for pro bono services. The county rejected that attorney’s submission, partly because of a lack of relevant qualifications.
Friday is the deadline for the county to notify the court of its legal representation.
Some council members expressed concern the initial allocation would fall short.
"Is $75,000 sufficient for the Syngenta v. County of Kauai case?" Councilman Mel Rapozo asked First Deputy Attorney Jennifer Winn, The Garden Island (http://bit.ly/1gAiVbt ) reported. "I can tell you, just looking at what we went through last week, that is going to be used up in a week or a month."
Rapozo said the council should create a budget to prevent outside attorneys from extending the county’s costs.
In the lawsuit, the companies claim the new law is "fatally flawed" and pre-empted by state and federal laws that regulate pesticides and genetically modified organisms. They contend that the ordinance will increase risks of commercial espionage, vandalism and misappropriation of trade secrets, and inhibit farming activities.
BASF, a fourth seed company that operates on Kauai, is not part of the lawsuit. A company representative has said it is still reviewing the situation and exploring its options.
The GMO debate is considered one of the most controversial and confusing issues facing our state. Supporters say the technology behind genetically modified organisms is feeding the world at a time when the population keeps exploding and space to farm is getting scarcer. Opponents say it poses health and environmental risks – the full scope of which is unknown, because its application is too new.
A genetically modified organism is a living thing, like the corn grown on over 2,365 acres in Kunia by Monsanto, which has been altered to produce a desired trait.
"A good comparison is to an iPhone. The iPhone is like the basic corn – putting more genes in or making it GMO is like adding additional apps into that phone, into that corn. It makes it more valuable and a better tool for farmers to produce their crop," described Fred Perlak, Ph.D., Monsanto Hawai’i Research & Business Ops Vice President.
Perlak says GMO corn can be engineered to resist insects and herbicides and tolerate droughts.
"Ethanol production, high fructose corn syrup, feed for cattle, fed for pigs for chickens – all that comes from this particular kind of corn," explained Perlak.
According to experts, approximately 90% of all corn grown in North America is GMO – along with cotton, canola and soy.
GRANTS PASS, Ore. » Oregon farmers are moving ahead with plans to start planting their next crop as questions remain about the source of a patch of genetically modified wheat found in a farmer’s field there last spring that threatened trade between the Pacific Northwest and other countries.
Speculation about the origin of the unapproved wheat discovered in northeastern Oregon ranges from saboteurs to a passing flock of geese. The U.S Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said Friday their investigation is ongoing.
Grass Valley wheat farmer Darren Padget says they may never know for sure, but he and other farmers are going ahead with plans to start planting winter wheat in mid-September.
“It’s one of those things where you just scratch your head,” the Oregon Wheat Commission member said as he loaded another truck with seed wheat to haul to a supplier for the local farmers’ co-op. “Everybody’s talking about seeding. We had rains through here the other day that will make seeding conditions good.”
Blake Rowe, the commission’s CEO, said although Asian buyers stopped placing orders for a couple of months, the overall economic impact has been minimal, and markets are back to normal.
Japan, South Korea and Taiwan all resumed placing orders for Northwest wheat after tests failed to turn up any that was genetically modified.
The Japanese government tested 1.2 million metric tons of U.S. wheat for GMO material without finding any, according to the trade group U.S. Wheat Associates.
“The customers came back before the harvest was really finished,” Rowe said from his Portland office. “It didn’t really interfere too much with the movement of wheat.”
If there is any more genetically modified wheat growing, farmers won’t know until spring.
Fields that grow wheat this winter will be sprayed with herbicides after harvest in the spring, so they can lie fallow for a year. Any wheat growing after it has been sprayed is likely to have been genetically modified to survive herbicides, which makes it easier to grow.
That’s how the rogue strain was discovered.
This online version corrects that Bill 2491 would not stop the commercial production of GMO crops, but rather place a temporary moratorium on the experimental use and commercial production of GMOs until the county has completed an environmental impact statement.
LIHUE — The Kauai County Council unanimously voted to move forward a bill that would allow the county to govern the use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms on the island.
During his closing remarks, Councilman Tim Bynum, who co-introduced Bill 2491 along with Councilman Gary Hooser, described the issue as “serious.”
“We’re talking about people’s lives, people’s livelihoods,” he said. “There are very sincere and passionate people on both sides.”
At 9:30 p.m. Wednesday — after roughly six hours of testimony from dozens of local residents and biotech company employees — the council approved the bill on first reading, sending it to a public hearing July 31.
A location for the hearing is not confirmed. Council Chair Jay Furfaro said he would be looking for a place able to accommodate a larger crowd. About 1,000 attended Wednesday’s meeting but only roughly 100 at a time were allowed in the council chambers.
During his eight years as a state senator (2002-2010), Hooser said he worked on many different and important issues.
“I think at the end of the day this will be the most important one that I’ve worked on, and maybe will work on,” he said. “It has tangible impacts to people’s lives and to our environment.”
The bill calls for Kauai’s largest agricultural corporations — namely DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, DOW AgroSciences, BASF and Kauai Coffee — to disclose the use of pesticides and the presence of GMO crops. It would also establish pesticide-free buffer zones around public areas and waterways, ban open-air testing of experimental crops and place a temporary moratorium on the commercial production of GMOs, until the county can conduct an environmental impact statement on the industry’s effects on Kauai.
Hooser believes the issue will never be resolved by the state Legislature, which is why he has chosen to fight it at the county level.
Kaua‘i seed farmers want to set the record straight about how they farm. In today’s edition of The Garden Island, they rolled out a new ad campaign breaking common myths about their farming practices and the seed industry. The ad says they want to in inform, educate and maintain a dialogue with friends and neighbors on Kaua‘i.
One of the myths addressed is the claim that seed farmers are experimenting with chemicals. Kaua‘i seed farmers say they “DO NOT develop or test chemicals. Our job is to improve crops for farmers around the world through plant breeding and growing seed.
We check our fields daily to determine if there are pests. Only if the number of pests would likely hurt the yield and quality of seed, and if there are no other appropriate control options, do we use a pesticide. We only use federally and state approved pesticide on specific crops, and we only use them when necessary and in amounts specified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to control weeds, insects and diseases.”
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Genetic engineering has failed to increase the yield of any food crop but has vastly increased the use of chemicals and the growth of “superweeds”, according to a report by 20 Indian, south-east Asian, African and Latin American food and conservation groups representing millions of people.
The so-called miracle crops, which were first sold in the US about 20 years ago and which are now grown in 29 countries on about 1.5bn hectares (3.7bn acres) of land, have been billed as potential solutions to food crises, climate change and soil erosion, but the assessment finds that they have not lived up to their promises.
The report claims that hunger has reached “epic proportions” since the technology was developed. Besides this, only two GM “traits” have been developed on any significant scale, despite investments of tens of billions of dollars, and benefits such as drought resistance and salt tolerance have yet to materialise on any scale.
Most worrisome, say the authors of the Global Citizens’ Report on the State of GMOs, is the greatly increased use of synthetic chemicals, used to control pests despite biotech companies’ justification that GM-engineered crops would reduce insecticide use.
In China, where insect-resistant Bt cotton is widely planted, populations of pests that previously posed only minor problems have increased 12-fold since 1997. A 2008 study in the International Journal of Biotechnology found that any benefits of planting Bt cotton have been eroded by the increasing use of pesticides needed to combat them.
Additionally, soya growers in Argentina and Brazil have been found to use twice as much herbicide on their GM as they do on conventional crops, and a survey by Navdanya International, in India, showed that pesticide use increased 13-fold since Bt cotton was introduced.
AS gardeners stock up on heirloom seeds for spring, Rob Johnston, the chairman of Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, Me., would like to suggest an accessory. Why not buckle up in a 1936 Oldsmobile coupe?
O.K., so it doesn’t have seat belts. But the swoop of the fenders resembles Joan Crawford’s eyebrows. Better yet, the rest of the Oldsmobile’s curves are all Lana Turner.
And the technology! Where else can today’s driver find such innovations as knee-action wheels and a solid steel “turret top”?
But even with all that a ’36 Olds has going for it, Mr. Johnston, 60, said, “I’m not sure how big of a market there would be” for 75-year-old cars. “It would just be a sentimental business.”
So to return to Mr. Johnston’s own business, vegetable seeds, why is the backyard gardener buying so many 1936-era heirlooms?
Mr. Johnston, it should be noted, is a fan of heirlooms, which, in the broadest sense, are old varieties of “open pollinated” seeds that will grow the same plant again.
But he argues that his typical customers — small market farmers and avid home gardeners — have better choices. Modern seeds, which are generally hybrid crosses, produce a “more vigorous plant, better resistance to diseases,” he said.
And here’s the heirloom heresy: they often taste better, too.