The GMO Debate, Food For Thought: Part 3

Critics Question Lawmakers? GMO Labeling Bill Killing Move

 UPDATED 6:14 AM HST Feb 24, 2012
HONOLULU -

?We had hours and hours and hours of testimony, really heart-felt, passionate testimony,? said Maui Councilmember Elle Cochran, who spent the past year fighting for legislation to get genetically modified foods labeled.

?I think everyone should have an option and know what we are consuming,? she said.

But that may be getting tougher to do.

In 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported: "Unauthorized releases of GE crops into food, animal feed, or the environment beyond farm fields have occurred, and will likely occur again."

This year, every county agreed on a labeling provision except for Oahu.

?This is not about GMOs being good or bad,? said Sen. Mike Gabbard during a pro-GMO labeling rally in 2008, where he held a 4,000-signature petition.

Despite passionate protests this year, bills to label whole foods failed again.

?I would hope we could get to a point and have a discussion about this and do the right thing,? said Gabbard.

House Agriculture Committee Chair Clift Tsuji has gotten heat from protesters for years.

?It's a very contentious issue,? he said.

This year, he and Senate Agriculture Chair Clarence Nishihara dismissed all GMO labeling bills without a single hearing.

?I don't want to create an impression in the public's mind that just because we label something, there's a negative to it,? said Nishihara.

?I'd like to see the industry police themselves,? said Tsuji.

?Putting a big fat GMO label on that really serves no purpose,? said the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association's Alicia Maluafiti.

She says 80 percent of the food we eat, right now, already includes GMOs.

?The entire cost associated with putting one little label on 80 percent of the food that we consume in the supermarket is economically not feasible, and it really serves no purpose,? she said.

Fred Perlak, head of operations for Monsanto Hawaii, said federal agencies already police the biotech industry, and already require genetically modified foods with known allergens and toxins be labeled.

?It's going to be costly for the state to set up agencies to monitor this, costly for producers, costly for manufacturers, costly for grocers,? he said.

More than a dozen countries ban or partially ban GMOs, but nearly 20 allow them.

In 2012, Japan lifted its 10-year ban on GMO papayas from Hawaii, but ordered all to be labeled "GMO."

?As long as we grow in open fields, the risk of contaminating the food supply is great, said attorney Paul Achitoff with Earth Justice.

The Honolulu-based nonprofit, environmental law firm documented genetic engineering in Hawaii.

They say, right now, there are 15 species of weeds resistant to Roundup, and that's led to more and stronger pesticide use.

150 Kauai farmers sued biotech company Pioneer in December. The suit claims Pioneer uses pesticides on its test crops almost every day - combined with trade winds, kicking up pesticide-filled dirt that blankets Waimea.

Pioneer says it's done everything from growing vegetation shields to slowing traffic but says: ?Living with some dust is a reality of life on Kauai."

?How come all of a sudden now? I mean it's not just the seed farmers. That is a farming community. How come all of a sudden now?? said Maluafiti.

?I think right now there are so many unknowns,? said Cochran.

In Hawaii, the cultural fears over GMO taro caused protesters to lock the doors on UH researchers.

And, twice, in the past year, vandals chopped down scores of trees believed to be GMO papayas on the Big Island.

?I hope we can move in a positive direction here,? said Cochran.

Despite its deepening roots, passionate debates over Hawaii's seed industry and GMOs are going strong.

It?s a twist of tradition and technology that's getting harder and harder to separate.

?Is there ever enough information? I think no,? said Maluafiti. ?I guess it's just depends on who you trust.?

What scientists can do continues to stretch the imagination.

Here's another one: rice with human genes, to treat children with diarrhea, which is a major killer in 3rd world countries.

It?s waiting for approval from the USDA.

But critics say long term testing, and what they call "unintended consequences," for example possible health risks, are a big concern. Senator Nishihara, Senate Agriculture committee chair, says he's open to public discussions maybe sometime this summer.

Also, Sen. Maile Shimabukuro is drafting a resolution to recommend non-GMO producers label their whole foods non-GMO, instead of the other way around.

Check out the entire series of Food For Thought: Hawaii's GMO Debate

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