POSTED: 9 DECEMBER 2008 - 9:00am HST

Genetically Modified Kaua'i

image above: Old Koloa Sugr Mill now stands empty. Photo by Brian Howell

by Robynne Boyd on 8 December 2008 for Scientific American

Just beyond the defunct Koloa Sugar Mill on the Hawaiian island of Kauai's south shore are acres of cornfields that have sprouted over the past decade in a state made famous by its pineapples, bananas and sugarcane crops. Slightly out of place in the Aloha State, they otherwise look quite conventional, although in fact they are not: The crop is among a bounty of others in the state that are grown from seeds that have been genetically engineered or modified (GM) to produce sturdier plants able to withstand weather and disease as well as thrive in the face of insects and chemicals sprayed on them to kill destructive weeds.

In front of one plot of corn stalks is a red and white sign warning, "Danger: pesticides. Keep out." Tacked to it is a list containing 15 chemicals that may have been applied to the crop. In this case, the chemicals circled are the herbicides pendimethalin (brand name: Prowl), dicamba (Banvel) and atrazine, the latter of which is banned in the European Union (E.U.) because of its link to birth defects in frogs that live in groundwater contaminated with it.

"I pass these corn fields every day when I go to the beach to go swimming," says Marty Kuala, 68, a 36-year resident of the town Koloa who worked in a plant nursery (that grew native plants such as naupaka, a’ali’i, and naio) in 2005. "It's kind of a new thing that we're starting to see these fields [of genetically modified or engineered crops] all over the place. GMOs [genetically modified organisms] are growing in the Mahaulepu area on Kauai's south shore and even in the large populated areas of Lihue, our biggest town."

This year, only 1.67 million tons of raw sugar were produced, nearly one million tons less than just a decade earlier; only 13,900 acres (5,625 hectares) in the state were set aside for pineapples in 2006 [the latest year for which pineapple stats are available) compared with a whopping 76,700 acres (31,039 hectares) in 1991.

The other crops vying for state land: flowers and nursery plants, macademia nuts, coffee, milk, algae, tomatoes, bananas and papaya.

Genetically modified food has been a source of debate since hitting the market in 1994. The E.U. had banned the imports of GM crops for 20 years, however in 2006 the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the ban violated international trade rules. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed it safe and has so far declined to limit or block the burgeoning industry.

The extraordinary biodiversity (and, so, native plants competing for space and nutrients), along with the intractable problem of invasive species would seem to make Hawaii the least likely place to grow controversial crops, risking their uncontrollable spread. But scientists seed companies and some scientists believe say the benefits outweigh the risks of damage to the fragile ecosystem, most notably Hawaii's crop-friendly moderate year-round climate—an average of 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius)—and its open acreage. And over the past 10 years, Hawaii has become the locus for genetically modified crop field trials and a microcosm for the controversies over the safety of growing and eating transgenic food.

To date, Hawaii's fertile soil has nourished more than 2,230 field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops, including corn, soybeans, cotton, potatoes, wheat, alfalfa, beets, rice, safflower, and sorghum—more than any other state. A total of 4,800 acres (1,940 hectares) of such crops now grow throughout the state, some 3,500 (1,415) of which are corn and soybeans, 1,000 acres (405 hectares) of which yield genetically engineered papaya, and the remaining 10 percent are field trials for new potential GM crops. "Hawaii is ideally suited for field trials and seed production, because of the climate and the ability to grow corn and soybeans 52 weeks a year," says Cindy Goldstein, a spokesperson for Johnston, Ia.–based Pioneer Hi-Bred International (a subsidiary of DuPont) in Waimea, Kauai. Her company has been producing GM corn and soybeans in Hawaii since the mid-1990's, when the FDA approved the crops for commercial sale.

Goldstein says that seed companies can harvest three to four yields of corn per year in Hawaii compared with only a single yield in the continental U.S. thanks to its temperate tropical climate. Other parts of the world with similar climates may also be well suited for corn and soybean seed production. But Goldstein notes that Hawaii has the added advantage of extensive amounts of available land due to the downturn in sugar and pineapple over the past decade, a victim of skyrocketing production costs compared with lower rates in developing countries.

As a result, many U.S. seed companies, including Pioneer Hi-Bred, Monsanto and Syngenta, have turned the Islands into a sprawling living nursery for GM corn seed. Genetically engineered corn seed is now the top crop in Hawaii, comprising 92 percent of the state's GM seed industry valued at $97.6 million for the 2006 to 2007 season."

Genetically engineered crops can actually help our environment, help our economy, and secure jobs for our agricultural workers," says Ching Yuan Hu, associate dean of research at the University of Hawaii at Manoa's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. Hu is quick to point out, however, that he only supports the development of GM crops in which cross-pollination with non-GM crops can be prevented to ensure that engineered traits will not dilute the gene pool of conventional crops, thereby causing target species to develop resistance.
The university is currently engineering seeds for disease-resistant bananas, a new variety of papaya, and Spanish lime—plants that Hu deems safe. Hu notes that it generally takes from seven to nine years to bring a new GM seed to market.

But not everyone is on the GM bandwagon. Critics worry that the pests genetically engineered crops were originally created to withstand will eventually build resistance to the crop, and that the engineered traits will spread virulently via the wind, birds and bees.

" One of the biggest concerns with growing crops like Bt [Bacillus thuringiensis] corn [engineered to produce the pest killer, Bt, which has been used for decades by organic farmers to control crop-eating insects] is that you're putting insects under the greatest selection pressure to become resistant to Bt, a natural insecticide," says Bill Freese of the Center For Food Safety, an environmental advocacy group in Washington, D.C., that promotes alternatives to unsustainable food technologies. He adds that if insects become resistant to this natural pesticide, organic farmers may lose one of their best and safest antipest weapons.
" The broader implications of growing GM crops is that it will create unwanted genetic material and traits in a wider and wider swath of major crops," such as spreading herbicide tolerance or pest resistance into wild relatives and then outward from there, Freese adds.

Conventional Hawaiian papayas have already come under scrutiny by organic farmers and environmental organizations in Hawaii for "genetic drift"—crops grown from non-GM seeds that test positive for being GM. In response, South Korea stopped buying papayas from the island of Hawaii, and Hawaiian papaya farmers who ship to Japan now have to test their trees for contamination and certify that they're "clean". In other words, these countries don't trust the genetic integrity of Hawaii's "non-GM papayas," which in turn has economically harmed many of the islands organic papaya farmers, and can lead to them losing their organic certification.

There have also been questions about the safety of genetically engineered foods.

In Europe, the European Food Safety Authority determines whether new GM products are safe for consumers and the environment. That view is then considered by the 27 member states, which make the final decision. It requires all genetically modified foods to be labeled, and, currently, only one genetically modified crop—Bt corn—has been approved to grow in the E.U. (mainly in Spain, but also in Germany, the Czech Republic and Portugal).

The FDA does not require GM foods to be labeled as such, insisting that studies have shown it to be as safe as foods produced using conventional breeding techniques. It is the seed companies that conduct the safety tests for new GM food products, passing the safety and nutritional information to the FDA for the agency's scientific evaluation.

"I haven't seen sufficient data from a legitimate organization without a conflict of interest to show that the stuff is healthy or safe," says Lorrin Pang, a public health specialist in Maui, and a consultant to the World Health Organization on tropical diseases, "I haven't seen data that says it isn't, either—but I'm from a drug and vaccine background that operates on the precautionary principle: You don't give something to the public until it's proven safe."

Pioneer Hi-Bred's Goldstein insists that foods made with genetically modified ingredients are safe, noting that they have been in the U.S. marketplace since 1996 and that "over a trillion meals containing biotech ingredients have been consumed in the U.S. with no documented negative health impacts."

The genetically modified seed biz may be booming in the 50th state, but not everyone is pleased about it. The Hawaii County Council (county legislature) last month voted to ban the growth of genetically modified taro (a tropical plant whose potato-like root is a staple of the Hawaiian diet) and coffee on the Big Island (Hawaii). The reason: pollen from GM crops could contaminate the non-gm varieties and destroy farmers' livelihoods. The concern seems to be greater with these products, because they’re specialty crops commonly grown on the Islands, as opposed to corn, raising the possibility of cross-pollination.

There is also an emotional element to banning GM taro. According to legend, the taro plant originated when a child of the gods was born lifeless. From the child’s grave sprouted the first taro plant, forever casting it as a sacred subsistence food and an ancestor to native Hawaiians.

Despite the hoopla, Carol Okada, manager for the Plant Quarantine Branch of Hawaii's Department of Agriculture, says the business is here to stay and will still be booming in Hawaii 10 years down the road. "Even though it's controversial here," she says, "the [GM] seed industry is now the No. 1 industry for us and it is very important in terms of the economy, dealing with invasive species, and giving farmers choices."

The bottom line: Hawaii may be the GM crop test capital of the world, but the debate over biotech foods is far from over."



POSTED: 25 NOVEMBER 2008 - 9:00am HST

GMO's and your health

image above: MonsantoFood Co-op. Illsutration by David Dees at

by Jeri DiPietro on 23 November 2008 for

Please join GMO Free Kaua`i on Monday night, December 8 at 7:30pm, Dr. Lorrin Pang and Dr Hector Valenzuela will come to Kaua`i to speak about the health, environmental and economic concerns regarding the testing and growing of genetically engineered food crops on our island. This informative event will be held at the Hanapepe Neighborhood Center.

This is a free lecture and all are welcome. Dr. Pang, advisor to the World Health Organization, and Dr Valenzuela, conventional crop specialist from UH Manoa, will be available to answer all your questions regarding chemical use, contamination and lack of regulation associated with GMO crops on our island and world wide. Dr Pang and Dr Valenzuela are both very interesting and entertaining presenters, and are very familiar with the genetic testing being conducted on Kaua`i. They are available to talk story after the presentation as well

Please feel free to bring information on other sustainable agricultural systems that you are working, to share with others!
Dr Pang and Dr Valenzuela also welcome, with respect, people involved in the production of biotech experiments so that we may have a broader discussion of this important issue.

Discussion of GMO risks with
Dr. LorrinPang and Dr Hector Valenzuela

Monday, December 8th, at 7:30pm


Hanapepe Neighborhood Center
Puolo Road, Hanapepe

GMO Free Kaua`i
Jeri Di Pietro
Phone: 808 651-9693

Studies which examine animals fed GE foods are showing worrisome toxicity as well as the risk of allergic reactions and immuno-suppression (side effects).
These findings support the position of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that the risk of unintended health effects are greater for GE than for conventional foods.

Findings such as this make it imperative that 1) human safety testing be done prior to marketing and 2) post marketing. surveillance be conducted. Neither of these precautions have been addressed - there is no data.

Essentially we are eating GE foods of unknown toxicity. Post marketing, GE foods are not labeled. So although we have consumed quantities of GE foods, it is unknown if GE foods are associated with the rising rates of numerous health conditions (including cancers) over the past decade.

Finally, based on the NAS warning cited previously, testing of GE foods must be done on a case by case basis and we can anticipate problems with consistency of product, resulting in discrepant study findings for the "same product".
Current laws allow these GE ingredients into our food by categorizing these untested products as 'substantial equivalent' or 'GRAS, generally regarded as safe'.
GMO Free Kaua`i and thousands of Kaua`i residents are concerned about the unknown human health and environmental consequences of genetically engineered crops and products on Kaua`i. We support the public's right to know where these crops are being grown and pertinent safety information about them, and advocate the labeling of all genetically engineered foods.
Our mission is to raise awareness and educate the public about the health, economic, and environmental risks of genetically engineered and modified organisms, while providing meaningful ways to work towards creating a GMO free Kaua`i.



POSTED: 25 NOVEMNER 2008 - 9:00am HST

Independent GMO Health Risk Studies

Health Effects of Genetically Engineered Food

by Elisha Goodman 24 November 2008 for

" Claims regarding the safety of GE crops are based al most exclusively on assessments by government regula tors, which in turn are founded mostly on unpublished studies conducted by the crop developer . . . contrary to popular belief, the FDA has not formally approved a single GE crop as safe for human consumption.1"
-Bill Freese, Research Analyst, Friends of the Earth, 2006

It is difficult to find independent funding to conduct unbiased health studies of genetically engineered (GE) crops. Studies conducted or funded by GE crop developers may be skewed to their advantage and troubling results may be withheld from summary data shown to regu lators and the public. This was the case with Monsanto’s insecticide-producing GE corn, called MON863.2 Summary data from a 90-day rat feeding study revealed to European regulators raised concerns, prompt ing requests for release of the full study, which had been conducted by Monsanto. The company refused to comply, acceding only a year later upon order of a German court. The full study revealed that rats fed MON863 had lower kidney weights and elevated white blood cell counts compared to rats fed conventional corn. Independent reviewers who called for further studies to establish whether the corn posed hu man health risks were ignored.

The list below contains just a few of the independent studies beginning to emerge and their results indicate that we should have grave concern about the health effects of GMOs.

Genes from GMOs Transfer to Bacteria in Humans

Genes engineered into one organism have transferred to bacteria in the mouth3 and gut of humans.4 In the only human feeding study ever conducted to test GMOs, the Roundup Ready® gene from soy trans ferred to the bacteria found in the gut of humans. The fact that the bacteria took up the Roundup Ready® trait is an example of horizontal gene transfer, a phenomenon long discounted by the biotech industry. Most worrying, these studies show the potential for bacteria to also take up antibiotic resistant genes often engineered into GMOs. Bacteria could then become resistant to the antibiotics we use to combat dis eases and fail to be cured by antibiotics.

Mice Fed GM Peas Show Immune Response
Mice that were fed GE peas engineered with a gene from a bean demon strated an immune response, including inflammation of the lungs and increased serum antibody levels.5 Significantly, the protein produced from the natural version of the same gene in beans does not cause these responses. The study shows that heedlessly transferring genes from one organism to another via genetic engineering can have health conse quences, including allergies and other adverse immune responses.

Allergic Reaction Caused By Gene Engineered into Soy
A gene from the Brazil nut inserted into soybeans made the soy aller genic to those who normally react to Brazil nuts.6

GM Soy Contains Proteins Identical to Shrimp and Dust Mite Allergens
Unlike regular soy, the GM soy consumed in the U.S. contains protein sections that are identical to those found in shrimp and dust mite aller gens.7 This GM soy is the most widely grown GM crop, and in the form of soy formula is often fed to infants, yet there were never follow-up studies done to determine whether the soy is in fact allergenic.

Rats Fed GM Potatoes Have Pre-cancerous Cell Growth

A UK government-funded study demonstrated that rats fed GM potatoes developed potentially pre-cancerous cell growth and gastric problems.8

GM Corn-Fed Rats with Blood Cell, Kidney and Liver Problems
Rats fed Monsanto’s GM corn, MON 863, had problems with blood cell, kidney and liver formation.9 Male rats had increased white blood cells and female rats had lower levels of red blood cells. Livers and kid neys had lesions and malformations.
No Minimum Level of GMO StarLink Corn Judged Safe for Human Consumption
After StarLink contaminated the food supply, expert scientific advisors to the EPA stated that there was no minimal level of StarLink’s Cry9C insecticidal protein that could be judged safe for human consumption.10 An extensive literature review reveals numerous unpublished studies that indicate the insecticidal proteins engineered into Bt corn may be allergenic.11

GM Produced Tryptophan Associated With At Least 37 Deaths
A batch of tryptophan produced by GM microorganisms was associated with at least 37 deaths and 1500 disabilities from a rare disease known as eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome.12

Unpredictable Techniques Could Lead to Toxic Carcinogenic Products
According to Salk Institute cell biologist David Schubert, the crude and unpredictable nature of genetic engineering techniques could lead to “the biosynthesis of molecules that are toxic, allergenic or carcinogenic . . . GM food is not a safe option, given our current lack of understanding of the consequences of recombinant technology.”13

Elisha Goodman lives in Hilo, Hawai‘i. She has lived and worked on organic farms in Hawai‘i and abroad and is the director of Hawai‘i SEED. She is a founding member of Hawai‘i Genetic Engineering Action Network and sits on the Board of Directors of Hawai‘i Organic Farmers Association.

1) William Freese and David Schubert, “Safety Testing and Regulation of Genetically Engineered Foods,” Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews, Vol. 21, 299-324 November 2004.

2) " French experts very disturbed by health effects of Monsanto GM corn," (24/4/2004),, Translation of Le Monde article "L'expertise confidentielle sur un inquiétant maïs transgénique," Confidential report on a worrying GM corn. Also see Spilling the Beans, June 2005.

3) Mercer, D.K., Scott, K.P., Bruce-Johnson, W.A. Glover, L.A. and Flint, H.J. (1999). Fate of free DNA and transformation of the oral bacterium Streptococcus gordonii DL1 by plasmid DNA in human saliva. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 65, 6-10.

4) Netherwood, et al, "Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract," Nature Biotechnology, Vol 22 Number 2 February 2004.

5) Vanessa E. Prescott, Peter M. Campbell, Andrew Moore, Joerg Mattes, Marc E. Rothenberg, Paul S. Foster, T. J. V. Higgins, and Simon P. Hogan, "Transgenic Expression of Bean-Amylase Inhibitor in Peas Results in Altered Structure and Immunogenicity," Agric. Food Chem., 53 (23), 9023 -9030, 2005. 10.1021/jf050594v S0021-8561(05)00594-7, October 15, 2005:Mice exposed to alpha-amylase inhibitor of GM-peas showed evidence of an immune response after two weeks, with the response increasing at four weeks. The reaction in mice was evident by inflammation in the lungs and increased serum antibody levels. The research also showed that after eating the GM peas, there was evidence that the pea alpha-amylase inhibitor protein primed the mice to react to other food antigens.

6) J. Ordlee, et al, "Identification of a Brazil-Nut Allergen in Transgenic Soybeans," The New England Journal of Medicine, March 14, 1996.

7) G. A. Kleter and A. A. C. M. Peijnenburg, "Screening of transgenic proteins expressed in transgenic food crops for the presence of short amino acid sequences identical to potential, IgE-binding linear epitopes of allergens," BMC Structural Biology, vol. 2, 2002, p. 8-19.

8) Ewen, S.W.B., Pusztai, A., 1999b. "Effects of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine," Lancet 354, 1353-1354:This study showed that feeding GM potatoes expressing a lectin gene from the snowdrop plant to rats led to major changes in gut structure and function, including thickening of the stomach mucosa and proliferative hyperplastic growth of the rat small intestine leading to crypt enlargement. The genetic modification process appeared to be fully responsible for the latter effect and partially responsible for the stomach mucosal thickening, showing the need to test all new GM products for undesirable gastric changes, which at present is normally not done.

9) Joan K. Lemen et. al, Monsanto Company Toxicology Report MSL 18175, "CV-2000-260: 13-Week dietary Subchronic Comparison Study with MON 863 Corn in Rats Preceded by a 1-Week Baseline Food Consumption Determination with PMI Certified Rodent Diet #5002," 15 December 2002.

10) " Assessment of Additional Scientific Information Concerning StarLink Corn," FIFrA Scientific Advisory Panel to the EPA, SAP Report No. 2001-09, from meeting on July 17/18, 2001.

11) William Freese and David Schubert, "Safety Testing and Regulation of Genetically Engineered Foods," Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews, Vol. 21, 299-324 November 2004.

12) Mayeno, A.N. and Gleich, G.J. (1994) "Eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome and tryptophan production: a cautionary tale." Tibtech 12, 346-352.

13) Schubert, D. (2002). "A different perspective on GM food," Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 20, p.969. (From California Certified Organic Farmers Association’s report "What is Genetic Engineering?"

for more see:
Island Breath: World According to Monsanto 5/5/08
Island Breath: Monsanto wants it all 4/21/08
Island Breath: Syngenta spraying near school 2/17/08
Island Breath: Spray Ban Bill 2/1/08
Island Breath: Bill to restrict herbicide 1/24/08
Island Breath: Maluia WCMS 7/10/07
Island Breath: Syngenta Poisoning II 2/23/07
Island Breath: Syngenta Poisoning I