11/18/2013 07:36 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Snatching Defeat From Jaws of Victory

On November 19, 2013, the Hawai'i County Council will make the most important decision of our time.

Bill 113, the "anti-GMO" bill, would make it illegal for Big Island farmers to plant new, federally-approved biotech plants. We would be in the first farmers in the U.S. with such a ban. This bill would criminalize Big Island farmers who chose to plant what is legal in the rest of the country.

It would also prevent open-air testing of new biotech plants, which is required before biotech varieties are approved. This is a lawyerly way to ensure that biotech solutions will never be allowed on the Big Island.

This bill does allow biotech solutions to be used in cases where it can be shown there has been economic damage. That sounds good, but it is no help to the farmer - he or she would go out of business first, because it takes years to find a biotech solution. Farmers are not dumb.

Fundamentally, this all boils down to whether we are going to continue to avail ourselves of the scientific method, which allowed us to discover, for instance, the structure of DNA. From Wikipedia:

The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the scientific method as: "a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses."

The scientific method puts a solid foundation beneath our ideas, and we selectively ignore it at our own peril.

Farmers know that nothing is perfectly safe; it's all a matter of risk and reward. So when every major scientific organization in the world says that biotech crops are as safe as conventional crops, farmers take notice. These scientific organizations represent thousands of front-line scientists. The Nobel Prize is awarded for finding something different, not for going along with the crowd, so it is very significant that there is such consensus among scientists.

Somewhere between the scientific and the non-scientific method lies common sense. Farmers have common sense.

  • Farmers see that Bill 113 would make farmers on the Big Island less competitive with the rest of the world. This is not good.
  • Farmers know that if the farmers make money, the farmers will farm, and this bill would eventually cause farmers to lose money.
  • Farmers have seen the bad effects of rising oil prices on farm expenses. They know that people have less money to support farmers when oil price goes up.

So this bill would make Big Island farmers less competitive, and our community would depend on cheaper food imported from elsewhere. Common sense tells us this is not good.

On the other hand, we could ask our local scientists to help develop biotech solutions to help us leverage our year-round growing season. Leveraging our Hawaiian sunshine will help farmers lessen their cost of production, protecting themselves from rising oil prices.

Any solutions in this direction will help farmers compete and increase our food security.

Will our County Council kill Bill 113 and move us in the right direction? Or will it snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?