Big Island, small minds: GMO ban on Hawaii flouts science and sense

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A long and highly upsetting article in this weekend s New York Times Review described in nauseating detail the fruitless struggle by one member of the Hawaii County Council to communicate the science-based facts of agricultural biotechnology (GMOs) to his co-council members. The intrepid member, Greggor Ilagan, ultimately failed when the Council voted 6-3 in favor of banning the cultivation of GMO crops on the big island, Hawaii (exceptions were made for 2 such crops already established there, Rainbow papaya, a genetic modification which all seemed to agree had saved the island s papaya crop, and a GM corn only recently planted to feed cows.

Scientists flown in were given short shrift, while anti-biotech advocates received the plaudits of the vocal attendees and the Council. Roseanne Barr, raising organic macadamias on the island, volunteered to burn down all the genetically modified papaya trees (meaning the entire Hawaiian crop). Further, test planting of GM crops was also banned, and a proposal to empanel a committee to research the pros and cons of biotech crops never came up for a vote.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross had this sad commentary: These folks would also have burned heretics and hung witches based on the same quality of evidence used here. They seemed to have bent over backwards to ignore and downplay the science, that is the facts or the truth of this technology, not even bothering to give it lip service while rushing to put their own superstitions into effect. I hope the rest of Hawaii does not perceive this ignorant approach as leadership, as it is quite the opposite, it s the rule of the mob.

But rather than yield to despair, and recalling the triumph of science over organic-industry-fomented agenda and fear in the two recent failed Label GMOs campaigns (in Washington and California), we find another section of the NYTimes way more optimistic: Andy Revkin s Dot.earth column, also this past weekend. In fact, Revkin s main source was a series of articles in the left-leaning website Grist, by Nathaneal Johnson, entitled Panic-free GMOs. Johnson summarized his reporting in a year-end synopsis, and Revkin hopes that his usual Grist audience liberals who often reflexively denigrate biotech food, possibly due to its origins from mega-businesses such as Monsanto et al. will have the tolerance to learn from his reasoned approach. Dr. Ross again: Will they? Don t bet the farm on it. The positions of many opponents of biotechnology are more faith-based than susceptible to reason. And companies are caving to perceived consumer concerns, as General Mills just did with their GM-Free Cheerios. Let s hope I m wrong and Revkin and Johnson are right.