Federal, state officials talk GMOs at Maui council


WAILUKU, Maui — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials told a Maui County Council committee they haven’t heard of any health issues related to eating genetically engineered rainbow papaya.

Eating rainbow papaya is the same as eating a papaya with a virus, which is a “common occurrence,” Chris Wozniak, an EPA biotechnology special assistant, told the committee Tuesday

A Maui doctor countered there could still be risks, The Maui News reported. Dr. Lorrin Pang said that just because it occurs naturally doesn’t make it safe.

The committee is reviewing a voter-initiated measure that would place a moratorium on the cultivation of genetically modified organisms in Maui County until the activity is shown to be safe. The committee heard from officials with the EPA and state departments of agriculture and health on Tuesday.

Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the Aina, or SHAKA Movement, gathered 9,062 valid signatures, surpassing the 8,465 needed for the measure to be considered. The initiative will be placed on the Nov. 4 general election ballot if the council doesn’t approve it.

Experts who spoke Tuesday — with the exception of Pang — didn’t pinpoint any health problems related to GMOs or any compliance issues with Maui County seed companies.

Bill Jordan, EPA deputy office director for pesticide programs, said the agency registers and develops the labels for pesticide use. The basis for the labeling comes from scientific information from chemical companies, as well as data gathered from other sources, he said.

The EPA does not perform human testing on the health effects of pesticides because that poses ethical issues, Jordan said. The EPA does testing on rats and mice.

The EPA also regulates some genetically engineered plants, such as the rainbow papaya, corn and soybeans.

Hawaii economist Paul Brewbaker questioned the need for an initiative that would shut down an industry to conduct studies. He was in favor of studies but not the moratorium.