HILO, Hawaii – On Monday, the genetically modified organism debate returned to the Hawaii County Council chamber. The discussion has been ongoing at the Public Safety and Mass Transit Committee over the last few months. Two bills proposing to regulate GMOs in different ways have been whittled down to a focus on just one bill.
Monday’s meeting was a continuation of the previous committee meeting, during which councilwoman Brenda Ford’s bill was given a negative recommendation. A decision has yet to be made on councilwoman Margaret Wille’s bill.
Bill 109 still alive thanks to incorrect procedure
Ford’s bill 109 would have made it illegal to grow GMOs on the island, including the transgenic papaya which has become so prevalent in Puna. At the same time, Wille introduced bill 113, which would still prohibit the introduction of new GMOs to Hawaii, but would exempt the genetically engineered papaya and corn already being grown on the island.
Early in Monday’s discussion, Ford tried to breathe new life into her bill which appeared to be headed for a quiet death at the full council. County code dictates that the bill must first be sent to Environmental Management – bill 109’s proposed enforcement agency – for the department’s review before a vote. That means last week’s vote could have violated the county code. The rule was debated.
“I know that you can vote this down and not send it over there.” said Ford of her reconsidered bill. “But its an inappropriate move and I would hope that each of you would consider what your constituents have been saying. 90% of them are saying that they want GMO to be banned.”
“The approach of this council was to not pursue 109,” said Wille, who appeared perturbed at the sudden resurrection of Ford’s bill. “I think it again starts getting things confused. I don’t think its a matter of not listening to constituents. We need to get something done!”
The committee ultimately voted to reconsider the bill, and send it to Environmental Management. That means Ford’s bill is still alive in committee.
A controversial GMO Summit in Waikoloa
The elected officials then discussed a forum held in Waikoloa about GMOs, hosted by the Hawaii Island Economic Development Council. Councilmembers who attended had to report their attendance for sunshine purposes.
“Its a legal thing for us to attend,” said Kona councilwoman Karen Eoff. “I wanted to hear as much as I could about GMO and there were several scientists there that promoted the science of GMO and there were several there who expressed concerns. ”
Wille was frank about her perception of the event. “It was not open to the public,” she said, “in fact I did not get an invitation at first, they said they were not able to contact me.”
“It was very lopsided,” Wille added. “Out of seven presenters or speakers, there was really only one, Dr. Hector Valenzuela, who specifically was addressing concerns about this. The others that were brought in were brought in by the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, which is the biotech industry’s advocacy arm.”
“There was also Kamana Beamer,” Wille said, “who did not initially take a strong position either way but when he saw how slanted it was he stood up and said ‘I cant take this anymore’ and left.”
“We attended and sure it was a little lopsided,” said Kona councilman Dru Kanuha, the third councilmember to go to the forum. “The morning discussion was a good discussion, there was a lot of different viewpoints and I thought it helped me tremendously.”
After that the committee could focus on Wille’s bill 113.
“Lets just draw the line in the sand where we are right now,” said Wille of her bill, which she says grandfathers in papaya as an industry. “Its everywhere,” the North kohala councilwoman said. “Its impractical to just say ‘no’ at this point.”
Bring in the experts
The day was devoted to an all star list of expert witnesses – recognizable faces in the GMO debate, both for and against. Farmers, scientists and doctors…
But first, a politician. Kauai councilman Gary Hooser, who is leading a high profile charge on Kauai to curtail the effects of GMO agricultural practices on his island. Hoosiers bill 2491 has inspired huge marches and deep passion. Hawaii county picked his brain for a while on Monday.
“On Kauai we’re dealing with a similar but much more advanced situation,” said Hooser. “The companies are doing a lot of testing, experimenting and growing of genetically modified organisms on around 13,000 acres. They dominate the west side, and are moving to the south side and east side of our community. And the community is very concerned.”
Hooser said his island is concerned about health, and said doctors have seen greater incidents of certain illnesses in the affected districts, including cancer and birth defects.
“Its scary, quite frankly,” Hooser said. “I’ve spoken to the industry trying to find out what they’re doing. Secrecy is a big problem. They wont tell the council what they’re doing. They wont tell me what they’re doing. They’re spraying and applying an enormous amount of pesticides. Restricted use pesticides that no other farmers on Kauai are using.”
When asked by Puna councilman Greggor Ilagan if federal or state government is regulating the companies in any way, Hooser said the feds do tell the state how to regulate, “so the state isn’t so much pointing to the federal government, it’s more the council and the community pointing to the state and the federal: ‘do your job’. The industry will point to the Department of Agriculture, and they’ll say ‘we’re highly regulated, we have regular inspections from the Department of Agriculture’. I got copies of the inspection logs, 43% of those inspections are redacted, they’re blank because of enforcement violations. It takes up to three years for the Department of Agriculture to resolve a complaint of pesticide misuse. ”
“We’ve had schools where kids went to the hospital sick. Most people believing it was pesticides coming from the GMO fields. It took up to six years for the Department of Agriculture to do an investigation.”
“We’re not going to wait,” Hooser said. Like Hawaii County, he said Kauai wants “to pass an ordnance to stop everything.”
In an attempt to define the difference between open air cultivation and open air testing, Councilwoman Eoff asked Hooser if the distinction can be made.
“Our focus has been the prohibition of experimental testing,” Hooser replied. “The industry will talk about regulated crops and deregulated crops. Experimental – in our bill – is defined as a genetically modified organism that has not been approved for release into the general environment, nor approved for human consumption. We believe its reasonable for those types of things to be done indoors.”
From there the day took on the appearance of another hearing, but instead of the public expressing its opinion, the testimony came from speakers chosen by the councilmembers.
Experts Rounded Up
Speakers included UH plant pathologist Michael Shintaku, who along with others downplayed the health concerns the anti-GMO groups associate with Roundup, the Monsanto herbicide. Some GMO crops have been created to be “Roundup Ready”, which means the use of the weed killer will not effect those crops.
“Glyphosate, or Roundup,” said Dr. Shintaku, “compared to most things is quite benign. You might want to ban Roundup but the next few herbicides down the list that people will turn to are worse than Roundup. Personally, I use roundup at home. I would not want to have to manage weeds without Roundup or any of these other pesticides.”
“What Roundup does is interferes with a pathway that plants have. Thats why it takes a long time for pants to die. When you spray it, ten days later you finally see something happening.”
Shintaku said Roundup interferes with phenylalanine biosynthesis (corrected) in the unwanted plant. “We don’t have that,” he said. “Its quite non-toxic.”
On the other side, an obstetrician and gynecologist who insisted the health effects of GMO food consumption have been proven and documented.
“35 diseases that have skyrocketed with the increase use of glyphosate and GMO foods,” reported Dr. Jade Patti McGaff. “I’m sorry this is so emotional because we are talking about the babies, and our food, and the whole future of our island.”
“When you mess with these pathways… when you take glyphosate in you… it depletes your aromatic amino acids, your methionine, and your cytochrome P450. When you mess with cytochrome P450, you dont make vitamin D anymore. You don’t make your cholesterol right anymore. You dont make your bile acid right for your gallbladder digestion. You don’t stabilize your blood.”
“I kept wondering why is everybody low in vitamin D in this incredible environemnt that we have,” added McGaff.
McGaff also referenced a study done in Canada, where she says all the canola oil is 100% GMO now. “The studies found the by product of glyphosate in the pregnant women and in their fetuses. And there is finally a study out that shows – Yes – this protein, you give that plant AIDS – you inject it into their DNA – its travelling through our guts, our ruined, leaky guts – and into our bodies. There is horizontal transfer. We are being colonized with these proteins.”
A Rainbow of Data
Dr. Hector Valenzuela – a Professor at the University of Hawaii – a man whose GMO analysis is well regarded, took a critical look at the claim that the transgenic rainbow papaya saved the payapa industry from a death at the hands of the ringspot virus.
“We haven’t conducted a single (independent) study,” said Dr. Valenzuela, “to determine the economics, the environmental or the health/safety of GMO papaya. So we haven’t been able to go back and trace the actual impacts on the state. ”
In terms of the papaya economics, he said “about 40% of the farmers went out of business. The volume of production is about 30% of the high levels of papaya production in the old days of Hawaii. The value of the crop is in general lower than the non-GMO or conventional organic papaya. In my breeding classes one of the rules is if you develop a new variety, it has to be a superior variety. It can not be inferior to standard varieties. And if the consumer is not willing to pay more than what they do for the conventional papaya, then in my perspective its not what we should be looking for.”
“From what I’m hearing,” councilman Ilagan told Valenzuela, “these are all economic faults. This is not even a health reason. And we’re here for public safety.”
UPDATE: Jeffrey Smith was one of the big testifiers of the day. Since his work and credibility have been questioned in the comments below, we thought we should ad this video shot by Kerri Marks of Occupy Hilo, documenting Smith’s testimony at the council committee on Monday.
Jeffrey Smith Answers Questions from Council
And on it went, with no decision making and very little discussion from the council. The debate continues on October 1st during the regularly scheduled committee meeting.