Lawmakers Push Limits on Crop Modification
ABC News, March 02, 2006
HONOLULU (AP) - State senators have advanced two bills putting limits on the genetic modification of taro and coffee, crops that are key to Hawaii's identity. The bills that passed out of a dual committee meeting Wednesday would ban until 2011 the field testing of strains of both plants that have been engineered or spliced with the genes of other organisms. The modified plants could, however, be grown in greenhouses.
The taro bill also would place a five-year ban on genetically modifying Hawaiian varieties of the plant, whose roots are made into poi, one of the state's best-known foods. In Hawaiian folklore, taro is considered to be a sacred ancestor of Native Hawaiians, linking them to island soil.
Coffee, particularly from the Big Island's Kona region, is a point of pride for the islands, which are home to the only U.S. commercial coffee plantations.
The original bills called for a decade-long moratorium on raising and testing genetically modified varieties of both plants. Amended versions now head to the full Senate.
Last year, senators tabled a group of measures seeking to address farmers' fears of potential crop contamination by the pollen of genetically modified varieties.
Nancy Redfeather, co-director of Hawaii Genetic Engineering Action Network, said the bills' passage at the committee level was a positive sign that the Legislature is addressing questions about genetically modified crops.
C.Y. Hu, associate dean and associate director for research at the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, said the limits would tie researchers hands in the event a virus strikes island crops.
Genetically modified seeds were credited with saving Hawaii's $14-million-a-year papaya industry when it was struck by a ruinous virus in the late 1990s.
Sen. Gary Hooser, a Democrat and lead sponsor of the bills, said lawmakers hoped to allow science to proceed while protecting farmers.
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