The Hawaii County Council will hear public testimony about Bill 113 on Tuesday. This bill proposes to ban all new genetically engineered crops on the Big Island even if they are approved as safe by the three federal agencies responsible for the regulation of GE crops: the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration. If passed, it would prevent ranchers and farmers on the Big Island from growing legal and healthful food crops. Bill 113 is based on emotional fears and not on scientific evidence.
Plants are basically chemical factories. They don’t have legs to run away from grazing animals or other pests. As a result, they use their chemical factories to protect themselves. Many insecticides are derived from plant compounds. Cyanide is produced by many plant species to protect against grazing animals or insects. One example of a food crop that produces such defenses is cassava, which is processed to remove the cyanide compounds before human consumption. In addition to cyanide, there are multiple examples of plant-based chemicals that are harmful to humans when consumed. Does the government require multigenerational animal or human testing of these food plant species? No.
Those opposed to GE crops demand such multigenerational studies to prove that GE crops are perfectly safe. But, regular food crops are also not perfectly safe. They produce allergens and toxins routinely, as a result of their natural biochemical activity.
Scientific studies have demonstrated that commercialized GE crop varieties are “substantially equivalent” to non-GE crops. Scientists analyzed GE crop varieties for all the various chemical constituents normally found in non-GE crops to ensure that there are no increased amounts of naturally occurring plant toxins or new chemicals that may be allergenic.
Recently, Alessandro Nicolia and others published a review of 1,783 articles or 10 years of studies from 2002 to 2012 on the safety of GE crops at informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/07388551.2013.823595. They published in Critical Reviews in Biotechnology, a well-respected, scientific journal. Nicolia and others concluded that “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of GE crops.”
The scientific evidence is clear: commercialized GE crops are safe for human consumption and the environment. Again, Bill 113 is not based on science but on emotional fears. We all want healthy, safe, nutritious and affordable food to feed our families. Working together, we can make progress toward this common goal of obtaining food security for our islands.
If you agree with me, please contact your County Council member and ask him or her to vote to table Bill 113 and first form a task force or ad-hoc committee to advise them on this scientifically complex, controversial issue. This task force or ad-hoc committee should be composed of scientists, health professionals, representatives of federal government regulatory agencies and commercial growers of organic and conventional and GE crops or animals.
The nation is watching us — nytimes.com/2013/10/08/business/fight-over-genetically-altered-crops-flares-in-hawaii.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&. We can demonstrate how co-existence of diverse farming systems on the Big Island is possible, just as we have shown how diverse cultural groups can co-exist together, by respecting each other and focusing on what we have in common.
Susan C. Miyasaka, Ph.D., is a resident of Pepeekeo.
Viewpoint articles are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily the opinion of West Hawaii Today.