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Battle Over Genetically Altered Crops In Hawaii...

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Author Topic: Battle Over Genetically Altered Crops In Hawaii...  (Read 198 times)
Mark
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« on: October 08, 2013, 05:25:43 am »

Battle Over Genetically Altered Crops In Hawaii...

The balmy tropical isles here seem worlds apart from the expansive cornfields of the Midwest, but Hawaii has become the latest battleground in the fight over genetically modified crops.

The state has become a hub for the development of genetically engineered corn and other crops that are sold to farmers around the globe. Monsanto and other seed companies have moved here en masse, and corn now sprouts on thousands of acres where sugar cane or pineapples once grew.

But activists opposed to biotech crops have joined with residents who say the corn farms expose them to dust and pesticides, and they are trying to drive the companies away, or at least rein them in.

The companies counter that their operations are safe and that the industry is essential to Hawaii’s economy.

In the last two weeks, legislative committees on the islands of Kauai and Hawaii have approved proposed ordinances that would restrict the ability of the seed companies to operate. The Kauai bill will go before the full County Council on Tuesday.

“It’s a paradise over here that is being ruined by this,” said Michiyo Altomare, who lives in this small town on Kauai that is just across a narrow river from a bluff upon which the seed company Pioneer grows corn.

Ms. Altomare and her husband, Corrado, built their dream house here 30 years ago, hoping to enjoy the winds that waft down from the bluff. But when sugar cane gave way to corn, she said, those winds began carrying fine red soil that coated her counters, forcing the family to shut their windows and install central air-conditioning.

On some occasions, Ms. Altomare smelled pesticides and called the police. Mr. Altomare suffers from high platelet levels that his doctor said could have resulted from chemical exposure. The couple’s grown children, she said, “don’t want to live here.”

The seed companies say the pesticides and genetically engineered crops are already well regulated by the federal and state governments. They say curtailment of the Hawaii operations would disrupt agriculture for the nation.

“Almost any corn seed sold in the U.S. touches Hawaii somewhere” in its development, said Mark Phillipson, an executive of Syngenta, a Swiss seed and agrochemical company. Mr. Phillipson is also president of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, which represents the seed companies.

The companies are supported by those who say the seed business is vital to the economy. Seeds are Hawaii’s leading agricultural commodity, contributing $264 million to the economy and 1,400 jobs, according to a study commissioned by the companies.

Hearings on the bills have often lasted into the night and overflowed their locations.

Kauai seems to be in a summer camp color war, with supporters of the bill wearing red T-shirts and opponents blue ones. An estimated 1,500 to 4,000 people in red shirts marched in favor of the bill in early September. The seed companies are here because the warm climate allows for three corn crops to be harvested in a year, compared with one in the Midwest. That accelerates the several generations of crossbreeding needed to perfect a new variety.

“Instead of taking 13 years to develop a new variety, it takes seven years,” said Ryan K. Oyama, a research scientist at Pioneer, which is owned by DuPont.

There are as many biotech crop-field trials in Hawaii as in Iowa or Illinois, mostly for corn but also soybeans, wheat and rice. The output of Hawaii is not corn for food or feed, but seeds that are shipped to the mainland, where they are further multiplied and eventually sold to farmers.

Breeding is also needed for nonengineered crops, and some of the companies have had operations in Hawaii since the 1960s.

But the operations have expanded in the last two decades as the sugar and pineapple industries collapsed in the face of cheaper foreign competition and the state began seeking new uses for the abandoned land.

Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta, Dow and BASF occupy a combined 25,000 out of the state’s 280,000 acres of agricultural land, with operations on Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Molokai.

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