Farmers feed us, and they need access to the best technology. Bill 79 and efforts like it are terrible mistakes. It is fear-based legislation that comes from the misunderstanding that biotechnology is too dangerous to use. Crops with flood and drought resistance, insect and disease resistance, enhanced nutrition profiles and other beneficial traits are being developed, and these bills shut the door on all of it. Biotechnology is young, and we haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet.
Supporters of this bill were surprised that so many farmers rose in opposition, but farmers have serious challenges. Weather, pests, diseases and market conditions too often undermine their best efforts. Papaya farmers on our island could not grow a crop without the transgenic Rainbow papaya. These plants have resistance to papaya ringspot virus (PRSV), and except for being resistant to PRSV, they are exactly the same as the nontransgenic papayas. If you know someone who eats papaya in Hilo, they are likely eating transgenic papaya, and they are likely pretty healthy.
Bill 79 would condemn all biotechnological solutions based on irrational fear. There have been hundreds of studies looking at the safety of transgenic crops and the overwhelming consensus is that these products are as safe and environmentally friendly as their nontransgenic counterparts. There is no credible argument on this point in the scientific community. This issue is pretty much settled.
I have been working in plant molecular biology since 1986, received a PhD in plant pathology in 1991 from Cornell University, and moved back home to take a job at UH-Hilo in 1993. Dr. Dennis Gonsalves’ team was able to develop PRSV-resistant papaya plants in about that same period, and they made these plants available to Hawaii growers less than five years later.
The plant pathology community was optimistic this technology would curb many viral plant diseases, but misguided proposals like Bill 79 do nothing but dampen progress. Over 90 percent of U.S. corn, cotton and soybean growers choose to plant transgenic crops every year because those crops provide a worthwhile benefit.
Please allow Big Island farmers, who are among our best friends and neighbors, to use the best technology available. Please talk to a farmer before supporting these bills.