Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Musings: Jimmy on GMO Taro

Even though I’m not in his House District, I contacted Rep. Jimmy Tokioka yesterday and asked him to support HB 1663, which would place a moratorium on GMO research on all taro varieties, and oppose HB 1226, which would take away the right of the state and counties to regulate GMO research and cultivation. Both bills are being heard in the Agriculture committee today, and Jimmy is a member.

In his reply, sent at 9:10 last night, Jimmy helpfully included a template that would allow me to submit written testimony for the record, which I had already done.

And then he expressed his views:

I wanted to let you know that I have met with parties on both sides of the fence of the genetically modified organism debate and I have grave concerns on passing any legislation that will place an indefinite moratorium on the research of non-Hawaiian varieties of taro. I understand the cultural perspective on wanting to ban genetically modifying Hawaiian taro but HB 1226 is asking for a permanent moratorium on research on all varieties of taro including the Chinese, Japanese, Puerto Rican and all other types of taro. If we ban genetically modified research and development we will be unable to combat disease or assist our taro farmers in sustainability practices for the future. For example we can reference the debilitating effect the Varroa Mite has had on the honeybee population and the Bunchy Top Virus on the banana plant. I think it is only prudent that we at least allow for the door to remain open in regards to research on non-Hawaiian varieties of taro as long as this research is done within the confines of a secure and closed facility that will not allow for cross contamination and at no time will open field testing be conducted.

I have highlighted and attached below a portion of the testimony previously submitted for SB 709 (genetically modified organisms; taro) from the Kauai Taro Growers Association which is comprised of 42 taro farmers, representing 93% of Kauai taro farmers and 396 acres on Kauai. KTGA signed a petition opposing an indefinite moratorium on the research of non-Hawaiian varieties of taro. They said that their opposition does not mean that they are pro GMO and they do support the Native Hawaiian culture and agree with UH CTAHR that there be no GMO research on the Hawaiian varieties. They also agree that if research is to be done the Hawaiian community needs to be consulted and certain controls need to be in place in order to ensure that all research is done in a safe and permitted facility and that no open field test is conducted.

And here are the excerpts from the KTGA testimony, which seems to indicate that it views GMO taro as some sort of savior that will solve all the other troubles facing the industry:

According to the USDA, National Agricultural Statistic Service (NASS), taro production is at a tipping point and without continual research and assistance may never recover to the 6,800,000 pounds harvested in the year 2000 as compared to the 2008 harvest of 4,300,000 pounds, a short fall of 2,500,000 pounds. Taro farming is one of the hardest and labor intensive occupations and vulnerable to the weather, agricultural theft, apple snail, diseases, water shortages, irrigation ditch repairs, increased supply costs and labor shortage.

Throughout the past seventeen plus years, Kauai taro farmers have worked closely with CTAHR and provided access to their fields for research to improve their crop yields, find solutions for apple snail infestations and diseases, and test different Hawaiian varieties and different hybrid varieties of taro that will produce the best poi possible. As science progresses, new methods have developed that will provide taro farmers with different options. This research provides the hope to continue this very difficult job and to pass it on to the next generation. If not, who will provide the taro and poi?

… The taro farmers are asking for help to preserve their livelihood and future, by not imposing an indefinite moratorium on the other varieties that may someday provide an answer to a disease or problem that may occur. To start research at the time of occurrence will be too late and time will be wasted to undo the moratorium while the taro crops decline.

There are some inferences that the commercial farmers are only after the money and profit, but that is not the case. At up to $8.99 per pound of poi in Hawaii, the farmers are only receiving 6% of that at $.60 per pound. Statistics show the declining trend for taro farming in Hawaii and the taro farmers need help and are asking for help so that you will not say to us, “Why didn’t you tell us?” And what will be the answer when the poi consumers ask, “Where’s our poi, what happened to our taro? Where are the taro farmers?”

Aside from the inherent conflict in first stating that farmers are “asking for help to preserve their livelihood” and then claiming they’re not only after the money and profit, I understand the concerns of the commercial growers. No one wants to see taro disappear.

Still, it seems to me that declining taro production is due predominantly to land and labor issues. I know a number of taro farmers who lost their leases, most notably in the prime taro lands owned by Gaylord Wilcox behind the Hanalei shopping center, and although they wanted to continue farming, they had nowhere else to go.

The KTGA was notably silent when these farmers asked for help in retaining their leases. If KTGA is serious about increasing production, it would be well served to put its energy into helping more farmers get on the land and ensuring water is available, instead of putting all its hopes into CTAHR developing some magic disease-resistant, high-yield GMO variety that only the big commercial growers want to grow and can afford to buy.

As for implementing safeguards to ensure that all testing is done “in a safe and permitted facility,” with no open field tests, well, that’s fine and dandy, but what about when these GMO varieties are released for public use? The big issue with GMO is containment, whether through pollen drift or the unintended mixing of seed, or in this case, huli.

CTAHR can’t guarantee that GMO varieties won’t mix with Hawaiian varieties. And if Jimmy thinks that GMO has anything to do with "sustainability practices," he is gravely misinformed. GMO is the antithesis of sustainability.

My guess is that the research moratorium bill will be shot down. It’s just really unfortunate that an industry group primarily comprising non-Hawaiians is holding so much sway on an issue that is predominantly cultural — and not their culture, either.


Anonymous said...

Joan wrote;
"It’s just really unfortunate that an industry group primarily comprising non-Hawaiians is holding so much sway on an issue that is predominantly cultural — and not their culture, either."

With politicians like Jimmy's help that is. It's not his culture either (although he often rejects public testimony because locals like himself are "not the types to speak up"). I guess he does not realize that an "indefinite moratorium" law can be easily repealed as the environmental law stopping the Superferry was. If he had the will he could votefor the law "with reservations"

Anonymous said...

What would be unfortunate is if cultural groups held sway on an issue that is predominantly scientific.

Anonymous said...

Got that Mauna Kea here on the Big Island.

!@#$ "cultural practitioners"!

It's the 21st century. Get with the program.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if kanaka don't buy in to western value system of science at any balance. Sick and tired of non-natives telling us what is wrong about our culture. Sad are the ones with no "ha", no essence, no spiritual mana...soul-less individuals that try to coerce
us to be like them. And it is not just "cultural groups", it is the indigenous people of Hawaii nei whose home you happen to live in.

Anonymous said...

It's the 50th state of the USA you happen to be living on. Get with the program or it will crush you.

Anonymous said...

pls be polite. just sayin

Anonymous said...

anyways, just saw writing on gm corn dna getting into regular corn dna in mexico


"She suspects that some hybrid corn, possibly including some distributed by the government, may be contaminated. But she says dispassionate, objective science is the only way to determine that."

-- that was the lady that verified there was some crossover.

"dispassionate, objective science." wish there would be more of that on kauai / in hawaii

Manawai said...

Joan said, "...high-yield GMO variety that only the big commercial growers want to grow and can afford to buy."

Joan - who are these "big commercial growers"? Please name some. It is my understanding that the only people growing it are the small dedicated farmers who do it as much for maintaining the tradition as for the minimal pocket change it brings in. I do know that G&R tried to grow it but found it to be too labor intensive and not conducive to mechanical propagation techniques.

Joan Conrow said...

If you think the commercial guys are making only "minimal pocket change" you are seriously misinformed. There's good money in taro. Yes, it's hard work, and some I'm sure do want to continue the tradition, but make no mistake, those who are doing it full time are earning a good living.

Heck, some even make enough to import workers from Micronesia to toil in their fields. And while I'm not going to name names, that ought to give you a little clue.

Manawai said...

Well then, why couldn't a big company like G&R make a go of it? No imported illegal workers as you insinuate? It's not like growing taro is rocket science. My understanding is that the real money is made by Haleiwa Poi, the middle man in Honolulu, which buys most of the taro. The true is that growers here have their family and friends helping out because if they were to pay honest wages including medical, unemployment, FICA, etc., they couldn't make much. But you mentioned "big commercial growers". Have the fortitude to name them if what you say is true. Further, you insinuate that the, as yet unnamed, "big commercial growers" (note your use of a plural vs singular) import illegal immigrants from Micronesia since you make it sound like only those poor workers will work for the (again) insuated low wages paid by the "big commercial growers". The truth is that you're so full of misinformation that you use to try and make your jaded veiwpoints that you cannot back up what you say. So much for your credibility.

Joan Conrow said...

I don't know why G&R couldn't make it because I don't know anything about their operation. I never insinuated the Micronesian workers are illegal because I know they are legal. Further, most of Kauai's taro is bought by Honolulu Poi Co., now known as HPC Foods, not Haleiwa as you say. And I don't disagree that the millers make more than the farmers, which is typically the case with those who manufacture value added products.

But yes, the imported workers do work for less than Kauai residents, which is why they are imported. And if there wasn't money in commercial taro farming, it wouldn't be feasible to bring these workers in and pay their taxes, benefits, etc.

However, if you wish to remain wedded to the romantic, sentimental and false notion that all the taro farmers are working for pocket money and to keep the tradition alive, go for it. I'm sure nothing I could say would convince you otherwise.

Manawai said...

So why did you mention Micronesian workers if they are being paid less than Hawaii workers would. You make it sound like it was a big deal to be able to afford them. You said, "Heck, some even make enough to import workers from Micronesia." You speak out of both sides of your mouth. What was your point of than to try and defame the anonymous "big commercial growers" who you've consistenly been unable to name. You are a fraud, Joan, and so full of yourself that you think people will buy any kind of BS that your spew.

Sorry, I didn't realize that Honolulu Poi had bought out Michiro Endo's Haleiwa Poi. Wondering of course if even that easy to verify fact is true. But I'll take that on its surface.

Anonymous said...


blast facts and arguments well before may find it far more sporting, among other things

just a suggestion

March 4, 2009 8:36 PM
March 4, 2009 9:28 PM

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

was that guy that was deleted especially articulate? na. was he a little rude? sure, in parts. he was also trying to make some points

and the overall quality of his commentary was no worse then some of the other reader commentary we see posted

just sayin

Joan Conrow said...

You're right. Why should I deprive other readers of this little gem? Here it is:

i agree with manawai. the taro farmers, whether big or small have to be able to make a living. and most times, the farmers with smaller farms have other jobs like construction, firemen and others liek that. the bigger farmers are the ones that can tough it out year-round and supply the state with enough taro so that the people of hawaii will be able to buy poi in the market. hey, im just saying everyone has to make a living, u have many others many a killing off real estate, developers, car dealerships and hotels..but instead u make like making a living from taro farming is a crime..what?! u think farmers should get their produce to people for free. well then, perhaps we should walk into a restaurant and ask for a free meal, or go to the mall and demand free clothes; because if we give them our money...ooooh thats just wrong. its a shame that u (joan) are trying to convince others that what the taro farmers are doing is wrong, trying to FEED THE PEOPLE. Good grief, has anyone ever heard the phrase "dont bite the hand that feeds you"? I guess not. also, if taro farming is such a great living and that anyone can do it and that such a huge money maker...why is it that less people want to farm perhaps it HARD WORK. why dont u farm taro joan? theres money to be made in it, why dont u do it since you've convinced yourself that u know so much. also, farmers bring micronesians to work because they are the only ones that are not lazy and able to handle the laborous job. gosh joan, ur even a racist against the micronesians...goes to show what kind of person u are. pretty soon ur gonna be saying that other minorities cant come to hawaii because of some false, made-up reason of ur own.

Anonymous said...

Micronesians make it hard to maintain the myth that people live on the beach because they have to and not because they don't want to work.

Anonymous said...

this web page is a joke

Anonymous said...

haha ha!

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