Thursday, March 13, 2008

Musings: Strange World

The wind picked up suddenly and a shower blew through just as the eastern horizon was streaking pink. It was a light rain, and Koko and I were nearly home by that time, so we didn’t get wet. But I wouldn’t have minded, anyway, because I love the rain.

A friend told me he prays daily for rain. “I have to pray extra hard,” he said, “because so many people curse the rain.”

It’s a strange world when people are cursing that which is the source of life, just like it’s a strange world when scientists are busy tweaking the genes of our basic food crops —before they really understand the full environmental and health ramifications of their actions.

I was disappointed to read in today’s Garden Island that the Council yesterday deferred action on a resolution supporting a Senate bill that calls for a 10-year moratorium on research into genetically modified taro.

Most telling were the comments made by what appeared to be the only two persons who spoke aganst the resolution.

Pioneer scientist Sarah Styan said none of the seed companies with research fields on Kaua‘i are doing anything with taro or plan to do anything with taro, but she was there to oppose the proposed resolution.

“We don’t mandate genetic engineering is the solution,” she said, but it is a tool to be used.

University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources County Administrator Roy Yamakawa agreed.

There are definite benefits to organic farming, he said, but genetic engineering is a specific science.

“We’re trying to take technology and trying to make it useful for the people,” he said.

What they are essentially saying is they don’t want any restrictions of any kind placed on this technology and industry. Why? Well, for the University, because that’s where the research money is these days. And for the industry, well, they’ve managed to fight off all controls — even provisions that would allow the public to know where they’re growing crops with experimental biopharmaceuticals. They’re not about to give up an inch for fear they might have to give up a mile.

I like Roy; he's a smart man and a friend of mine. I believe he is genuinely concerned with trying to help farmers. However, I don't believe his employer is operating out of altruism.

It’s disturbing, but not surprising, that UH and the biotech industry have become so close. The college wants money, and the industry has it. According to UH professor Hector Valenzuela, the College of Tropical Agriculture made a decision years ago to embrace biotech at the expense of organic, sustainable agriculture.

A similar pattern has occurred in other universities. So what we’re seeing is a push to develop more genetically engineered crops, which universities can patent and make money from.

Never mind that charging farmers for patented huli — the part of the plant used to grow taro — totally flies in the face of traditional practices of sharing and trading huli among families and farmers.

Never mind that Hawaiians consider taro a sacred plant that is a crucial element of their culture, and they don’t want its genetics messed with.

Never mind that Hawaii's one big GMO crop — papayas — has already cross pollinated with other papaya varieties and even contaminated UH's papaya seed stock, proving that the technology can't be contained or controlled.

There’s money to be made. And it seems that once again, that’s all that matters.

This issue will be still be battled out in the Legislature, where a hearing and rally are scheduled for next Wednesday on the GMO taro moratorium bill. It would have been nice if Kauai County had gotten on board with a resolution in support of that bill, as the Big Island and Maui already did.

But then, it's impossible to fathom the actions of our County Council — a strange body in a very strange world.


Anonymous said...

the Kauai Taro Growers' Association also submitted testimony opposing the moratorium. Maybe that carried some weight with the council. (As an aside, I'm almost certain they supported last year's moratorium bill).

Joan Conrow said...

Yes, Charley, I saw that. However, solely commercial growers like Rodney have very different interests than subsistence and Hawaiian taro farmers, who are not well represented in the KTGA.

Anonymous said...

The problem I have with the GMO free crowd is the opposition is based on their imagination of harm. There is no factual basis. I could dream up all sorts of nightmares about perfecly benign things;. I prefer facts and hard evidence.

Anonymous said...

So we should just take the biotech industry's word on faith instead?

GMO tesing isn't done for benevelonce - it's done for profit. Those who see something more essential to life than profit in kalo are absolutely justified in opposing the develpoment of GMO kalo.

Anonymous said...

The very idea that farming for profit is intrinsically harmful means that only communists should still be alive.
Stick to the point made; what GMO harm have you got other than what is in your vivid imagination?

Anonymous said...

I'm referring to the massive profits sought by multi-national corporations and giant agri-business, not the fair reward due to small farmers.

The bio-tech industry is not in business to help small farmers, period.

Big agri-business has been sucking the life out of small farmers and helping to destroy local sustainable agriculture.

I'm not an expert on these issues by any means, but history indicates that the average small farmer, business and working person is the least likey to benefit from schemes like GMO.

Take a look at what GMOs have done to small farmers in India. Dr. Vandana Shiva, Indian environmentalist, has much to say about how GMO seeds have impacted India.

There are clear and present effects of GMO that have nothing to do with any speculation about long-term health impacts, but are obvious in the economic results for small farmers.

And then, there is the question of basic respect for indigenous people's sacred plants. Why not respect that? Why not take seriously the concerns of those most effected by these decisions?


Joan Conrow said...

Dear Anonymous (and it really would be nice if you'd use a name). The problem with the pro GMO crowd is their imagination of no harm. They have no studies to prove it is safe.

Very few studies have been done into the environmental and health effects of GMOs because the government is not requiring them and there's no research money available. So while you may say, prove they're dangerous, I would respond: can you prove they're safe?

Here are some facts about GMO dangers. Studies already have shown that "round-up ready" GMO crops have interbred with weeds, creating herbicide resistant super hardy weed varieties. They've also cross-bred with non-GMO crops, including corn and papayas, which then creates issues of purity and maintaining genetic diversity, especially among heirloom crops like corn. So we have a big problem with containment. Once an organism is released into the environment, it cannot be recalled.

In addition to the environmental and health issues, there are grave economic concerns as well, as Katy noted. As more and more basic crops are genetically modified -- a process that always involves a patent -- farmers can no longer legally save seeds and instead must buy them each year from multinational corporations. This has implications for crop diversity -- think potato famine in Ireland -- and economic viability for small farmers.

And the whole issue of biopharmaceuticals -- plants that have been genetically engineered to produce drugs and industrial products -- is another big concern, again because of the problem of containment. Do you want to risk eating something that might be contaminated with a herpes vaccine or blood thinner?

Those are very real possibilities when they're growing these experimental crops in open fields.

Mauibrad said...

Here on Maui our county council voted unanimously yesterday to support the GMO moratorium bill on taro. Kauai's council only tabled it, yeah? Maybe they will reconsider and vote a majority in support of it. Nobody should be able to patent a plant, own all rights to it, and force future users of that plant to pay for it, ESP. NOT TARO. Aloha, Brad

Anonymous said...

That's a phrase I just love: "studies have shown." For the layperson, "studies have shown" = facts. I'm afraid that's not how it works in the real world. I use research based treatments in the medical field. It's not only expected, it's demanded. In graduate school I learned about studies by doing my own; using exacting research models and having them peer reviewed. I expect nothing less from the ones I decide to use. Most of the "studies" referenced in the media are "junk science." See Airborne's $26M class action settlement and the junk science studies they used for more on this. If you want to convince me of a "fact" you need to tell me about the independence of the source (no biased advocates), the size of the sample, the model for control of variables, what journal accepted it and did they peer review, and how old it is. The real world is not as simple as believing what our heart aches to be true.

Joan Conrow said...

Dear Anonymous, If "the real world is not as simple as believing what our heart aches to be true," please share the facts that have convinced you opposition is GMOs is based on an imagination of harm.

And remember now, only recent research that has been published in peer-reviewed journals — without any funding or influence what so ever by the biotech industry, including the former officials of such that now work at the USDA and FDA.

Anonymous said...

Here is a recent enough peer reviewed journal article with something for everyone: International Journal of Food Science & Technology Volume 41 Issue 7 Page 813-832, August 2006 "Presentation and comments on EU legislation related to food industries-environment interactions: sustainable development, and protection of nature and biodiversity - genetically modified organisms." It is full of further references that are of the type I wrote about. It is more about how to safely integrate the GMO industry than destroy it. Since GMO-free Kauai seeks to eliminate an industry, at least here, I believe the burden of proof is up to them. There is no debate that eliminating this industry will bring harm to it's workers, investors, and official agenda. The "We don't know what will happen" argument, with it's reliance on imagination, is insufficient cause to allow that harm.

Joan Conrow said...

Just as I thought, you have no proof that GMOs are safe, because none exists. Yes, eliminating the industry would cause economic harm to some multinational companies and their investors. And it certainly would cause harm to their international agenda of controlling the world's seed supply. But as Katy and I both pointed out, pursuing the industry also would cause economic harm.

You wouldn't happen to be employed by this marvelous industry you're trying to protect, would you?

Anonymous said...

No, as I posted on the 14th I'm in the medical field and in ten years here have not met any of the people employed by Pioneer, etc.
I'm disappointed you did not look at the references I provided or follow where they lead. An industry doesn't have a single "safe" or "unsafe" study. It has a body of work that can be found in scientific journals such as the ones I steered you towards.
That's OK, I will continue to provide research based treatment while many will waste their money, health and time on things such as vitamin supplements, alternative medicines, herbal remedies and the like because they can't tell good research from junk science and they believe everyone connected with the established social order, even Doctors, are operating on a profit driven hidden agenda.

Joan Conrow said...

I did look at the reference you provided, and have done extensive research on the GMO issue over the years. I have yet to find any single study or body of work that speaks to the safety of GMOs — at least, none that weren't funded by the industry.

Anonymous said...

The reference was about the regulation of the industry that determines its safety as long as regulations are folowed.
Certainly, Bhopal, India was a tragic result of not following the rules of industrial safety as was Cernobal and the 747s colliding at Tenerife. Despite these, we did not shut down all chemical plants, turn off all nuclear power, or keep planes on the ground.
Part of the balancing act of life involves the risk of being part of society as it has developed. This is why most of us must and do drive a car on Kauai. It is a fact that cars crash and cause harm and our two lane roads offer little protection. But, if regulations are followed by all, driving is reasonably safe. If we were to assume every car ride will end in a crash, we would become dysfunctional in the society we have chosen to live. Because our society recognizes this philosophy you can't stop the GMO industry anymore than you could stop the automotive industry. They will both one day be replaced and the replacements may look pretty scary.

Anonymous said...

Yes, organized movements can stop an industry. Capitalists love this "there is no alternative" fallback position, but it's a bunch of crap.

Capitalism is not the end of history. There are, and always will be, alternatives.