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Hawaii Becomes Flash Point in GMO Controversy

corn-shutterstockHawaii, the cornerstone of corn-growing operations by the world’s leading seed companies, has become a flash point in the debate over genetic engineering in agriculture.

As companies have expanded their seed crop operations in Hawaii, opposition to genetically modified organisms has grown. It’s become a particularly touchy subject because so many seed companies now operate in Hawaii, where three crop cycles can be planted each year. About 90 percent of all corn grown in the US is genetically engineered and has been developed partially in Hawaii, according to the Associated Press.

County governments in Hawaii and Kauai are moving to regulate genetically modified organisms and pesticides, reported the AP. The Kauai County Council overrode a mayoral veto in December on a bill  on a bill instituting pesticide disclosure rules and buffer zones for genetically modified crops.

Seed companies Syngenta, Pioneer, BASF and Agrigentics have sued the county to stop the law, which goes into effect in August.

That same month, Hawaii’s mayor  signed into law a near-complete ban on genetically modified crops. Despite outrage over GMOs, it was initially unclear  whether the council would pass the measure. One councilman found that local papaya farmers credited genetic modification with saving their crop from disease. And the University of Hawaii told the council that according to the global scientific consensus, existing GMOs pose no increased risks and have also provided some benefits. The measure ended up passing 6-3.

Genetically modified crops — that can feed 9 billion by 2050 and tolerate heat, drought and disease — are the future of sustainable agriculture, David Rotman, editor of MIT Technology Review, wrote in December’s publication. Advances in biotech have made genetic engineering practices far more sophisticated than the transgenic techniques used in first-generation GMOs, Rotman writes.

Despite the growth in GMO products, global sales of non-GMO food and beverage products are projected to double to $800 billion by 2017, growth largely driven by demand in Europe and the US, according to a November report by Packaged Facts.

 Image by Shutterstock

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3 thoughts on “Hawaii Becomes Flash Point in GMO Controversy

  1. I wonder how many of those opposed to GE crops know of this from Europe:

    There is no validated evidence that GM crops have greater adverse impact on health and
    the environment than any other technology used in plant breeding. There is compelling evidence that GM crops can contribute to sustainable development goals with benefits to farmers, consumers, the environment and the economy. European National Academies of Science Advisory Council (2013)

  2. This article should point out many folks are not opposed to GM crops per say, but that the concern is more about the increasing amounts of pesticide use and the long-term negative impact to the soil, inhabitants, and overall ecology of the area due to this pesticide use. While advances in seeds can be very positive (drought resistance, pest resistance) it is important to look at the all impacts to measure net impact. Given that Monsanto and Dow profit from selling increasing amounts of pesticide, their marketing of pesticide tolerant crops may be beneficial to their bottom line but may not be beneficial for society as a whole given the toxicity in their products.

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