GMO Crops

GMO –“An organism whose genetic characteristics have been altered using the techniques of genetic engineering” (The American Heritage Science Dictionary 2008).

Genetic engineering –“The development and application of scientific methods, procedures, and technologies that permit direct manipulation of genetic material in order to alter the hereditary traits of a cell, organism, or population.” ( Unabridged v 1.1)

Science –“Systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.” ( Unabridged v 1.1)

Technology — “The branch of knowledge that deals with the creation and use of technical means and their interrelation with life, society, and the environment, drawing upon such subjects as industrial arts, engineering, applied science, and pure science”. ( Unabridged v 1.1)

Agriculture –“ The science, art, or occupation concerned with cultivating land, raising crops, and feeding, breeding, and raising livestock; farming” (.

Science and technology have allowed our society to advance at a tremendous rate. The way we communicate, travel, learn, produce electricity, as well as scientific advances in medicine have been beneficial to our society. But there is also a flipside to technological and scientific advances that have been detrimental to our society. Weapons of mass destruction, some types of illegal drugs such as crystal methamphetamine and ecstasy, and the pesticide Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane also known as “DDT”. My research into genetically modified organisms led me to two distinct points of view on the subject matter.


The topic of genetic engineering has drawn many concerns and questions from the community. Some of the main concerns are:

1. Regulation — GMO Free Hawaii is concerned that the United States Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency, who are tasked to provide regulation on genetically engineered organisms, have not set established rules to regulate these type of crops (GMO Free Hawaii 2002/2003).

a. The problem is that the rules in place address crops that are of a completely different nature than genetically engineered crops.

b. According to research done by Masashi Tachikawa, “These policy-making processes in US and Europe are in a sense quite the opposite to each other in that the US handled the GMO issue in the expanded framework of existing policy (based on the assumption that GMO would not pose new risks) without introducing new regulations specific to GMOs, whereas Europe considered GMOs as new organisms requiring environmental impact assessment prior to industrial use and established new regulations to control GMOs from the environmental viewpoint (Policy Trends and Regulation Style for Genetically Modified Products in the United States).

2. Crop Contamination — Another concern is the possibility that a GMO crop could cross-pollinate with a traditional crop. One example that comes to mind is that some GMO crops are genetically engineered to resist herbicides and there is a fear that this type of crop could cross pollinate with a weed to create a “super-weed” that is immune to herbicides. Another concern is that:

a. Pharmacrops-Pharmacrops are plants or animals that are genetically engineered to produce medicine. One concern is that if a pharmacrop were to cross-pollinate with a food crop whether it be GMO or not, we could possibly be ingesting something that was not meant to be consumed.

3. Food Safety — Food Safety is a concern that hits close to home. The last thing that any establishment wants is to serve their people something that makes them sick. According to the Center for Food Safety, “Currently, up to 45 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered as is 85 percent of soybeans. It has been estimated that 70-75 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves–from soda to soup, crackers to condiments–contain genetically engineered ingredients.” “A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergic reactions, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer. As for environmental impacts, the use of genetic engineering in agriculture will lead to uncontrolled biological pollution, threatening numerous microbial, plant and animal species with extinction, and the potential contamination of all non-genetically engineered life forms with novel and possibly hazardous genetic material” (Center for Food Safety Washington D.C.).

4. Unnatural — As we become cognizant of mankind’s relationship with our environment, there is also a movement towards organic and natural foods. To some, the thought of man tampering with natural selection may seem as if scientists are playing God. The main difference between traditional crop breeding and GMOs is that traditional crop breeding is the practice of taking favorable traits from one species and integrating that trait into the very same species to produce favorable results. Genetic engineering is the practice of taking DNA from one species and integrating that DNA into an entirely different species. For example, we may take the DNA from a cactus and insert it into another crop such as beets with the hope of producing a drought resistant crop.


I contacted one Biotech company to address some of these concerns. Along with my own research I have found the following:

1. Regulation — According to the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association which consists of biotech companies including; Dow AgroScience, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Syngenta and BASF, “Before biotech plants ever reach a farmer’s field or end up in food and animal feed, they undergo seven to ten years of rigorous testing.” (HCIA) The respective Federal agencies involved in regulation are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is tasked with assessing the safety of all biotech plant products intended for consumption by humans and animals. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees field-testing of genetic engineering companies to make sure that GMOs cause no harm to agriculture and the environment. In 2002, the Biotechnology Regulatory Services was created under the USDA to specifically address issues and concerns of this relatively new type of crop. Furthermore, the USDA and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, as part of an environmental risk assessment, carefully examines the potential for biotech crops to pass their genes to native plants. This is examined on a case-by-case basis before it is granted non-regulated status. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) examines GMO pesticidal properties for environmental safety. This includes any impact on wildlife and the environment. It also provides approval or disapproval of any herbicide use with herbicide tolerant crops. As mentioned before, the Biotechnology Regulatory Services department was created specifically to regulate field-testing. GMOs are regulated more heavily than any other crop.

2. Crop Contamination — Pollen drift is the primary concern when it comes to the subject of cross-pollination. However, there are no native plants that carry the risk of being cross-pollinated. Regulatory agencies such as the USDA and Hawaii Department of Agriculture examines each GMO crop to ensure that gene flow from one crop to the same or related species does not represent a significant risk.

3. Food Safety — Some of the regulatory agencies that have stated that GMOs are as safe as conventional crops include:

a. American Medical Association (AMA 1999-2002)

b. American College of Nutrition

c. U.S. National Academy of Sciences

d. U.S. Food and Drug Administration

e. Society of Toxicology (Society of Toxicology 2002)

f. World Health Organization

g. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

h. The Royal Academy of Sciences

i. The French Academy of Medicine

“The most telling fact about the safety of biotech crops is that during the 10+ years they have been commercially grown, people have consumed more than a trillion servings of food containing biotech ingredients. During this time there has not been one single documented case of an ecosystem being disrupted or a person made ill by these foods-in Hawaii or anywhere in the world.” (HCIA)

“Genetically modified foods “raise many issues–scientific, technological, environmental, social, ethical, economic, and political.” Controversy over GM food exposes larger issues about public trust in science and the role of science in policymaking. In an increasingly complex world, trust functions as a substitute for knowledge. Interference with our systems of food production has always aroused public concern, occasionally with justification. Attempts to introduce GM foods have stimulated not a reasoned debate, but a potent negative campaign by people with other agendas. Opponents ignore common farming practices and well investigated facts about plants, or inaccurately present general problems as being unique to GM plants.” (American Medical Association)

Unnatural-Scientific and technological advances have often been deemed unnatural and perhaps they are. However, conventional crossbreeding is a technique used by farmers for thousands of years and they are still being used today. The act of introducing a gene from one species to another is relatively new. Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen combined their efforts in biotechnology to invent a method of cloning genetically engineered molecules in foreign cells. By this discovery and its applications Boyer and Cohen initiated what is now the multibillion-dollar biotechnology industry. Their collaboration began at a conference in Hawaii in 1972, when Boyer was a biochemist and genetic engineer at the University of California at San Francisco, and Cohen was an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University. The conference’s topic was bacterial plasmids—circular segments of DNA that endow the cells carrying them with antibiotic resistance and other medical benefits.” (Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1997)

Many opponents of GMOs have concluded that bioengineering has crossed the thresholds of nature. Others have claimed that this is an attack on God. I will not contest these arguments for who am I to judge religious and personal beliefs. The same way that I oppose genetic engineering on native varieties of kalo due to the cultural significance and out of respect to our host culture which I am a part of. There is no doubt in my mind that the genes of a halibut would never have found it’s way into the strawberry to make it frost resistant naturally, I agree that the act of introducing the gene from one species into a completely different organism is indeed unnatural. Yet, it is in humankind’s nature to constantly innovate and to discover. “Man is a conglomerate of many things. His distinctive characteristic, above all others, is his ability to create tools. In this department he is unique. No other animated entity of all creation, so far as we can tell, has this ability, at least to the extent that man has it. Man has learned, because of his remarkable tool making facility, to extend himself into all kinds of worlds and situations which would be beyond him except for his tools. It is the use of tools which gives man mastery over this planet. If man plunges beyond this planet, it will be his tools which take him there.” (Robert LeFevre 1959.)

Economic Diversity

One aspect of economic diversity deals with increasing our export income. Export income deals with exporting goods and in turn, bringing in money and jobs into our economy. PMRF, the film industry as well as tourism and agricultural exports are some examples of export income. Biotech companies such as Syngenta, Pioneer, and Monsanto are also examples of export income. The seed crop industry has contributed $144 million/year to Hawaii’s economy and currently employs 2,000 of our residents. It is an industry that can provide high technology jobs for our kids and will promote careers in science and technology. There is also a need to reduce the amount of imports as we are currently importing over 85% of our food. This leak needs to be addressed and some ways that we are doing it now is by patronizing our sunshine markets and shopping local. Another way we are reducing our imports is by growing our own food.


Our vision for Kauai 2020 states that we are “an agricultural center, producing a wide range of crops, food. And forest products for local consumption and export.” (County of Kauai Planning Department 2000)

We all strive to keep ag land in ag land and there is one thing that is hard to debate, companies in the biotech industry have done just that.

High Technology

Our vision for 2020 also states that, “New high-technology businesses include a computer animation facility for the movie industry, and a solar energy research and development facility, and a bio-engineering company.” (County of Kauai Planning Department 2000)


Some of the benefits that GMOs bring include:

1. Reduced pesticide use

a. 62 million tons less in the U.S. in 2004

b. 380 million tons less globally (1996-2004)

2. Reduced erosion

a. One billion tons/yr of soil preserved due to no-till or low till farming.

3. Water Conservation

a. $3.5 billion saved in water treatment and storage costs per year

4. Increased yields

a. Farmers have realized increased yields on the same amount of land as well as less production costs due to reduced pesticide use and less tilling.

b. In 2004 US growers planted 118 million acres of biotech crops that:

i. Increased yields by 6.61 billion pounds

ii. Increased net returns by $2.3 billion, and

iii. Reduced time and costs associated with the elimination of over 62 million pounds of pesticide

c. In addition to higher-yielding crops, further productivity gains are expected to result from new pest resistant and stress-tolerant crops currently in development. The goal is to reduce the risk of crop failure due to environmental stress as drought and disease. Examples include:

i. Oranges resistant to citrus canker being developed in Florida.

ii. Sweet potatoes resistant to viruses being developed in Kenya

iii. Disease resistant bananas being developed in Australia and Hawaii.

iv. Drought and stress tolerant varieties of corn.

5. Enhanced nutrition

a. Tomatoes enriched with lycopene, an antioxidant believed to help protect against heart disease and cancer

b. Rice enriched with beta-carotene, which stimulate production of vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency causes blindness in 500,000 children and up to two million deaths each year.

c. Cooking oils that contain higher levels of Vitamin E and lower levels of trans fatty acids. Vitamin E is believed to improve the body’s immune system, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer.

d. Food crops enriched with higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown lowers cholesterol.

6. Third World Countries will benefit

a. Crops that are tolerant of local soil and weather conditions

b. Increased yields without expansive chemical treatments for disease by using virus resistant strains.

c. Provides nutrition from crops enriched with essential vitamins and minerals not present in sufficient quantities in their traditional diets. (Hawaii Crop Improvement Association)

7. World Health Organization

a. The World Health Organization put out a news release in 2005 to release findings of their comprehensive study on GMO crops. GM foods currently available on the international market have undergone risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health any more than their conventional counterparts. The risk-assessment guidelines specified by CAC are thought to be adequate for the safety assessment of GM foods currently on the international market. Guidelines for environmental risk assessment have been developed under the Convention on Biological Diversity.” (World Health Organization 2005)

b. “We can hope to gain the health and nutritional improvements of GM foods when we can help countries to research how they can control and exploit the introduction of GM products for the benefit of their own people,” -Dr. Jorgen Schlundt Director of the World Health Organization’s Food Safety Department. (World Health Organization)


The topic on whether or not GMOs are right for Kauai will be an ongoing debate. There is definitely a movement of sustainable agriculture throughout our state and island which is evident by the hard work of such organizations like Malama Kauai and the Waipa Foundation as well as backyard farmers. There efforts to perpetuate the way of the mahi`ai should not go unnoticed as it is efforts such as these that will cultivate the next generation of farmers. A wise man recently told me at a bon dance, “The day that the children stop coming is the day that bon dance will die.” Our needs as a county to move towards economic diversity are spelled out clearly by the shutdown of Aloha Airlines and ATA. The tourist industry will continue to be the driving force behind our economy but it is vulnerable to economic impacts both nationally and internationally. My findings on GMOs have raised one primary concern for me. The issue of regulation could be improved. This is a function of our President’s administration under the Food and Drug Administration, The United States Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Eco-Roundtable question

Would you support an ordinance to limit or even ban the growing of genetically modified crops on Kaua`i and if not, what do you propose to do to protect crops from GMO contamination and support the public’s right to know where GMOs are being grown?

I would not support an ordinance to ban the growing of genetically modified crops on Kaua`i. I will research the possibility of designating certain prime agricultural lands as “GMO Free Zones.” These “GMO Free Zones” would be areas that are reserved for non-GMO farming. Some items to consider is that these “GMO Free Zones” must be located in areas that are designated as prime agricultural lands, which would mean that there is access to water and necessary infrastructure. These “GMO Free Zones” would also need to be buffered from “pollen drift” and therefore would need to be located at a distance that is safe from possible cross-pollination. These “GMO Free Zones” would also need a buffer crop to further reduce the risk of stray pollen from cross contaminating “GMO Free Zones.” We would also need to take into consideration that we have trade winds and would need to factor this into our decision -making. I think for the most part, people are aware of where GMOs are being grown. However, if it is your desire for the public to know where confined laboratory research is being done, I would not support the release of this information because:

1. There are strict containment conditions that are implemented for a reason when doing laboratory research. One, they cannot afford to allow a crop that is still undergoing testing to be possibly released into the environment prior to USDA approval.

2. There is a risk of vandalism and theft.

3. Locations are released to the USDA so that they can conduct field tests and to ensure that Biotech companies are adhering to USDA guidelines. USDA makes general information publicly available but keeps specific locations confidential.


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