Moratorium on Hawaiian Taro GM Research / Hawaii Rejects GM Algae (26/5/2005)

The biotech industry in the States seems to be running into more and more roadblocks.

1.Moratorium on Hawaiian Taro GM Research
2.Hawaii Rejects Proposal For Genetically Engineered Algae

For more on what's happening in Hawaii see the GMO Free Hawaii site:

1.UH vows to hold off genetic tests with Hawaiian taro
Researchers will consult with native Hawaiians on cultural concerns
By Diana Leone
[email protected]

Hawaiian varieties of taro will not be used in any University of Hawaii genetic engineering research until native Hawaiians advise scientists about cultural concerns, a university dean said yesterday.

The promise is an attempt to stave off controversy and foster dialogue between the university and the native Hawaiian community, said Andrew Hashimoto, dean of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

The dialogue is expected to take place through a process being organized by the Royal Order of Kamehameha on all islands.

To solidify the promise, Hashimoto signed a one-page statement about the university's intentions with taro research yesterday at a taro patch at the UH Center for Hawaiian Studies.

"We have encountered perceptions in the community that CTAHR's taro research focuses entirely on genetic engineering and that the college sells or gives away genetically engineered taro huli (shoots). These perceptions are incorrect," the statement said.

"The CTAHR scientists currently involved in genetic engineering research on taro have no plans to modify Hawaiian taro varieties."

The only ongoing genetic engineering of taro at the UH is of a Chinese variety and is being done only in a lab setting, not in greenhouses or open fields, Hashimoto said.

Genetic engineering involves the placement of a gene from one species of plant or animal into a different species. For example a disease-resistant gene in rice could be added to taro. Genetic engineering is much faster than traditional cross-breeding, Hashimoto said.

Opponents of genetic engineering worry that open-field test crops could escape test plots and affect native plants or other nongenetically engineered crops nearby, said Kat Brady of the environmental group Life of the Land.

But for taro, the cultural factor is an additional concern.

The connection between Hawaiians and taro goes beyond its historical use as a staple food to a "mystical, mythological parable that all Hawaiians are attached," said kumu John Lake, who chanted in Hawaiian, then spoke in English at yesterday's event.

"Kalo (taro) is intrinsically part and parcel of Hawaiians and of ohana," he said.

In Hawaiian mythology, the gods Wakea and Ho'ohokukalani's first child, Haloanakalaukapalili, was stillborn. When he was buried in the ground, he became the first taro plant, said Nalei Kahakalau, a teacher at the Big Island public charter school Kanu O Ka Aina.

The couple's next child, Haloa, was the founder of the Hawaiian people, according to the legend.

Visiting students from the Big Island charter school chanted about the legend for those attending the event.

The prospect of genetically altering taro is "kind of scary," said Ernest Tottori, president of Honolulu Poi Co., one of the islands' largest taro growers and processors.

For example, taro is known to be tolerated by people with allergies to wheat and rice, but Tottori asked what if it lost that quality under genetic engineering?

"You want to be very cautious about anything like that," he said.
Anyone with concerns about genetic engineering of Hawaiian taro varieties can contact William Souza, of the Royal Order of Kamehameha, at 282-6005, or Andrew Hashimoto, dean of the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, at 956-8234.

2.State Rejects Proposal For Genetically Engineered Algae
Hawaii Channel, May 24, 2005

HONOLULU -- A local biotechnology company's plans to grow a genetically engineered strain of algae ran into a roadblock Tuesday.

Mera Pharmaceuticals wanted to bring the algae to its facilities in Kailua-Kona, to see if it can be grown in large quantities.

The company needed approval from the state Board of Agriculture to bring the algae to the islands. Mera said the algae can be grown to develop therapeutic drugs for such conditions as herpes and tumors.

Company officials said it would not be able to harm the environment if samples got out of its facility.

"The proof is in the pudding. Algae did not escape and invade an environment. It's very tough for them. It's actually very tough to grow them in large scale," said Dr. Miguel Olaizola of Mera Pharmaceuticals.

However, opponents are not convinced.

"Really they haven't had a good look yet at whether this can escape into the wild, whether it can survive in the wild, in fresh water, and whether there might be any health or environmental concerns, any impacts," project opponent Elisha Goodman said.

The board voted 6-3 against the company's request. Mera has applied to bring seven other algae strains to Hawaii Islands. The board expects to handle that issue at a later meeting.


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