11/01/2013 08:39 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Science Behind Hawaii's GMO Bill 113

In the current debate about pesticides and genetically modified (GM) crops the Agrochemical industry and its academic supporters claim that a scientific consensus exists about their safety. Proponents also claim that GMOs may be vital for Hawaii farmers in case a new pest threatens the agricultural industry. To make their case, they refer to the so-called success of the GM Rainbow papaya introduced by UH on Hawaii Island on 1998.

The main glitch with statements made about a "consensus" on the safety of pesticides and GM crops, is that the claims are NOT true, and are thus unfounded. UH has also been unable to provide data to back up their claims made about the so-called success of the GM Rainbow papaya. However, the little information that we have available, in terms of industry statistics, points in the other direction: a general industry decline, contamination of non-GMO farms, consumer rejection of the technology, and as yet undisclosed health concerns -- an example that we would certainly not like to emulate with other crops in the state.

Some of the key points that challenge the claims that GM crops are safe, and/or necessary include:

• No scientific consensus exists about the safety of GM crops. A recent statement signed by over 90 international and independent scientists, refutes the existence of a consensus on the safety of GM crops. Some of the points they raise, are listed below.

• Statements made by international or scientific bodies about the purported safety of GM crops, carry considerable caveats, including dissent by well-established scientists within these organizations; conflict of interest by organizations that depend on industry or U.S. funding; and the fact that their assessments are based on data provided by industry itself, and not on independent research.

• A close inspection of scientific reviews; references made to lists of 'hundreds' of publications; and a citation of a long-term European study, all of which are often cited to claim proof of safety, reveals that these reviews are contradictory -- as many of the cited studies actually show harm, and that many of the cited references are irrelevant to the issue of human health risks.

• The claim that no one has been harmed from consuming GM crops, repeatedly made by industry and by support academics, is false, ludicrous, and irresponsible-- as NO epidemiological studies have been conducted on humans to determine the short- and long-term effects from our exposure to GM crops.

• Considerable research has been published in the literature, raising questions about environmental, social, and human health risks, from the production and exposure to GM crops. Despite claims by industry and by support academics that many of these studies have been 'discredited', no actual follow-up studies have been conducted to either refute or validate the experimental observations.

• Conflict of interest consistently obfuscates the claims of safety made by industry-affiliated scientists. Academic studies that receive support from industry are less likely to find adverse effects, while research by independent scientists is more likely to uncover adverse impacts. For example, in the case of the industrial chemical bisphenol-A, a review showed that none of the industry-sponsored studies showed adverse effects while 90 percent of over 100 independent studies did show adverse effects from exposure to bisphenol-A. GMO safety studies follow a similar trend.

• Claims that new GM varieties are necessary in Hawaii to "save" a crop from future pests are unfounded and undocumented. The only plant disease epidemiologist in Hawaii has stated that conventional farming practices are available to deal with most pest and diseases that farmers may confront, now, and into the future. This statement was recently confirmed by a review of the U.S. experience with GM crops over the past 15 years. According to this review, production practices and the natural genetic diversity available in crops "is sufficient to maintain yields even in the face of most unknown pathogens that might emerge." The authors conclude that "GM crops are not a solution, in part because they are controlled by strict IP instruments."

Thus, what farmers need is not pie-in-the-sky promises telling them that commercial silver-bullet products will solve all the problems on their farm.

Rather, what farmers need is concerted government and University support, to develop ecologically-based production systems. A new paradigm of sustainable agroecosystems is required, to meet community food security needs, and to satisfy the growing consumer demand for locally-grown, wholesome, toxic-free, and nutritious fruits and vegetables.