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.
Published: Thursday, March 18, 2010 9:23 AM HST
University of Hawaii plant pathologist Scot Nelson has created a new, highly rated and interactive app for Apple products called "The Plant Doctor."
Adelante Consulting Inc. (http://www.iphodea.com) released of The Plant Doctor 1.0 in late February for the iPhone and iPod Touch. The Plant Doctor provides real time diagnosis and cost-effective treatments for plant diseases in gardens, landscapes, nurseries and farms.
Users may read the free descriptions of 10 of the most common plant diseases and their causes. If users are still unsure about their plant’s problem, they may buy a diagnosis. The app collects user-supplied information (text, photographs) about the problem and sends it to Nelson, a plant pathologist with a Ph.D. and more than 20 years of experience.
Nelson, stationed at the Komohana Agricultural Complex in Hilo, believes that the app is of potentially great benefit to farmers and gardeners worldwide. If you own an iPhone or iPod Touch and have plant health issues, The Plant Doctor 1.0 is a free download and is available exclusively through the App Store in the Lifestyle category. Diagnosis may be purchased for a nominal fee.
For more, contact Scot Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org, 969-8265.
MALP Educational Meeting — Free to the public
"Common Plant Health Problems in Hawaii Landscapes"
Tuesday March 23rd 6.30pm (Pupu served)
Maui Community Services Bldg., next to CTAHR Extension Service at the Maui Community College Campus. Click Here for Map
Dr. Nelson has been employed as a plant pathologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa since 1992, having been stationed at Manoa, Hilo (his current location) and in Kona. He has experience with plant pests and diseases in landscape settings, at homes, businesses, tourist destinations and resorts throughout the state.