Thursday, October 6, 2011

GM labeling hearing, GM papayas and Dr. Lorrin Pang

Are these papayas genetically modified?

I sometimes receive emails asking for testimony on Maui County Council hearings on one issue or another, usually sent the day before the testimony is due. In this case, there is a hearing about GMO labeling in Maui. The hearing is tomorrow, but the email testimony was due this morning at 9 am, the day before the hearing, and the email alert was sent yesterday. I wonder if it’s because the County Council schedules these hearings on such short notice, or if other factors come into play.

At the community garden yesterday, at the second gardening class, we touched very lightly on genetically modified food crops. At one point, someone said it’s illegal to sell genetically modified food in its natural state, although it is commonly found in most processed food, in the form of canola, corn or soybean oil and their derivatives. Cottonseed oil is another oil that is commonly genetically modified. I wasn’t on the ball when this comment was made, and it may be that I misunderstood it, but later last night, I started thinking, hey, what about genetically modified papaya?

Almost all papayas in Hawaii are genetically modified. The genetic modifications were made several years ago to help overcome the papaya ringspot virus, which was severely damaging the papaya crop. Ironically, a good chunk of the papaya market is to Japan, and so far, they refuse to accept genetically modified papayas, so the genetic modification has really hurt the papaya farmers. The genetically modified papayas have since cross bred with non genetically modified papayas, and some people believe that in less than 10 years, all papayas in Hawaii will be GMO. 

Currently, these GMO papayas are sold as “rainbow papayas” and are sold at farmer’s markets and all over the state.

Here are two links from the Honolulu Advertiser newspaper about GMO papayas:

This was a handout given by GMOFreeMaui at an event in 2010. The handout shows how to test your papayas for GMOs. The link in the handout at the bottom is defunct, at least as of today.

This was a 2nd handout given by GMOFreeMaui at an event in 2010. The handout shows how to manage papaya ringspot virus. The link in the handout at the bottom is defunct, at least as of today.

There is a lot of debate about GM crops, and while I’m not as knowledgeable as some, I have to side with those who support a moratorium on GM crops as well as labeling. Let people know what they are buying. There are numerous studies and reports available on genetic engineering, and we’re not talking about just hybridizing plants in the style of famed horticulturalist Luther Burbank, but taking a gene from a bacteria or a slug or a dog and putting it in a plant, along with other genes from other organisms.  We’re talking about moving genes around, then releasing these modified plants without knowing the impact on health and the environment. Sadly, also many GM crops are engineered specifically to resist heavy chemicals and herbicides, which ultimately helps the chemical companies make more money. 

Anyhow, it’s too late to send email testimony to the hearing, although not to late to attend it or to present verbal testimony. Some great resources to learn about GMO issues in Hawaii are: and

The GMO labeling hearing will be streamed live on the local access channel, Akaku.

An outspoken critic of GMOs is Dr. Lorrin Pang, Maui County Health officer, who has some pretty impressive credentials. I’ve heard Dr. Pang speak at various Maui community meetings and he can be quite eloquent and informative about the dangers of genetic engineering, when it’s released out of the laboratory.  He has cited cases of people who have gotten really sick from GMOs, and then been paid to keep quiet.  So far, the most eloquent clip I have found of Dr. Pang speaking about GMOs and their dangers is this audio clip with Kate Manchester
Here’s another short clip of Dr. Lorrin Pang, the Maui County Health Officer talking about the battle over GM in Hawaii. He is talking about a proposed moratorium to ban genetic engineering of kalo or taro, a Hawaiian root crop, valued in Hawaiian culture. This moratorium has since passed since so many environmental groups, Hawaiian cultural groups, and farmers got together. At least that’s one small step in the right direction. He refers also to the Superferry, a ferry that became bankrupt a short time after it began service between the Hawaiian islands. The state government gave the green light to the superferry without conducting an EIS or environmental impact statement, to the outrage of many Hawaii residents.

In this short video clip, filmed by Empower Maui, Dr. Pang is speaking to Upcountry Sustainability about food safety issues attributed to Roundup produced by Monsanto, a key player in creating GM crops.

Update 10/7/11: According to Courtney Bruch of Upcountry Sustainability, the Maui County Council did vote in support of the labeling of GMOs. This is a first step - since all the other counties must also approve GMO labeling.


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