For the past year, conventional, organic and biotech farmers, state agencies and interested stakeholders met in Honolulu to discuss “co-existence” of farming practices. This group formed three committees. Each of the committees attempted to come up with recommendations to the Legislature for their portion of the exercise. The committees were called Biological Drift, Chemical Contamination and Seed Supply. Their recommendations were summarized in the Exploring Coexistence: Preliminary Best Management Practices of Diverse Farming Practices. This Alternative Report, written by a group of the farmers who also attended these meetings, arose out of the need to accurately communicate and highlight many of the problems, legal battles, and
governmental initiatives surrounding the new technology of genetic engineering of agricultural crops.
The mandate which created the “coexistence” meetings, sponsored by the Hawai`i Farm Bureau Federation, arose out of a legislative resolution to “develop a framework of successful coexistence with mutual success and prosperity for all agricultural producers.” This framework is to be founded on “fact and demonstrable science.” However, these two statements both from S.C.R. 208 (2005 Hawai`i Legislative Session) are a perfect example of the difficulties that have arisen in attempting to discuss and arrive at protocols that would allow conventional, organic and biotech farming to exist side by side.
If one looks at the science of biotech agricultural crops that has emerged over the past months and years, there is a long and growing trail of obstacles to “coexistence.” There are mounting studies, news reports and obvious demonstrable science that point to the impossibility of coexistence as a sound biological concept. The European Union has attempted to solve this inconsistency with a complex and costly system of liability and litigation (the producer pays). Will these policies stop GMO genes from moving into conventional or organic crops? Certainly they will not, biology does not follow the law. However, it is a possible first step to protect Hawai’i’s farmers. The Senate Resolution states that “the long term prosperity of Hawai`i’sagricultural community depends significantly on diversity.” It then suggests that all farmers must have the “opportunity to choose which farming practices will be best.” This creates another impossible outcome. Since GMO genes cannot be contained in the natural world by talking to your neighbors, or allowing state agencies to police neighbors, or controlling wandering bees, patented genes over time will invade the non-GMO crops of the farmers in Hawai’i actually creating less diversity. This is the opposite of what the legislature has intended. In most instances, one would agree that diversification increases health in farming. But to then extend this concept to all systems of agriculture is faulty. If one system has the
ability to dominate others, then there is not an equal playing field. GMO genes have been found to become dominant in many situations. This genetic material is intellectual property owned by corporations. Their travel plans cannot be charted with accuracy.
This puts the conventional and organic farmers at a loss. Was this the intention of the legislature? Probably it was not. The resolution states that “ the transfer of knowledge and technology in many new areas of agriculture, have and will continue to provide substantial benefits to human health and the environment.” A pesticide in every cell or resistance to herbicides can be seen as practical for weed management, but this does not outweigh the mounting evidence of costs to human and health and the environment. Additionally, the loss of conventional and organic markets due to contamination with herbicide resistant GMO genes clarifies that these new technologies weaken, not strengthen our agricultural sector.
What these meetings of conventional, organic and biotech farmers could accomplish are sound recommendations to the Legislature regarding issues of “growing genetically engineered crops in Hawai`i.” If the Legislature desires knowledge and recommendations for the future, perhaps a more realistic discussion would include a Roundtable of Stakeholders who could wrestle with the following:
1. An assessment of the status of the genetic engineering of agriculture in Hawai’i.
2. An investigation of the federal, state and local laws that exist to regulate GMO, the identification of regulatory gaps about which the state should be concerned, and creation of policy to monitor these gaps.
3. An analysis of the health, environmental, economic, social and cultural risks associated with the growing of GMO crops in the state.
4. A discussion about how the state will protect farmers who choose not to grow GMO crops?
5. Is co-existence biologically possible?
Biological organisms, which include genetic materials, pollen, and seed, are alive. They are meant to reproduce. The crossing of GMO genes with conventional and organic crops could lead to significant market loss for these growers. Genetically engineered crops have not been proven to be safe. Experimental field trials have undergone no environmental assessments. APHIS has begun to doubt its own regulatory process after its 2005 Audit.
If one does not look at the effects of this technology, chances are one will not see any risks. The legislature is charged by law to protect the lands of Hawai’i and to support Hawai’i’s farmers. From the view of an organic farmer, in asking all farmers to “co-exist”, this resolution has created an impossible task. However, a new kind of thinking can emerge which could give the legislature more accurate information which would enable them to protect and preserve Hawai’i’s environment for future generations, upon which our very lives depend.