Scientists debate GMOs

Scientists debate GMOs

As state lawmakers debate the regulation of genetically modified crops in Hawaii, some members of the local scientific community are also at odds on how to treat GMOs.

Anti-GMO groups cite studies in Europe in which lab animals that were fed genetically modified foods were found to suffer damage to their immune and reproductive systems.

"I compare GMOs in a way to steroids because steroids are the easy way to go. It makes it easier for people in sports to enjoy but there's side effects," said University of Hawaii agriculture professor Hector Valenzuela, who backs labeling.

Valenzuela also cited secondary impacts, which include the contamination of non-GMO farms with GMO seeds and increased pollution brought on by the farming of pesticide-resistant GMOs, which require more spraying.

"So in terms of what adverse effects, you have to ask questions also of the potential side affects of consuming all of those pesticides," Valenzuela said.

Valenzuela's colleague Robert Paull calls that junk science.

Paull says the studies cited by the anti-GMO crowd ignore the fact that lab animals that were given non-genetically modified foods suffered the same diseases as those that were fed GMOs.

"They are in fact misusing and abusing science," Paull said.

"As far as we know, genetically engineered food is as safe as any food generated from any other breeding method."

Many of Hawaii's most popular crops rely on genetic engineering. In fact, farmers say that up to 90 percent of all papaya grown and sold here are genetically modified.

Longtime grower Ken Kamiya says genetic engineering saved his industry by developing a papaya that is resistant to viruses.

"I wiped out once in the 70s, then I moved up the coast to Laie to plant another field and another five years of good harvest. Virus comes in again and the 80s we were almost out of business," Kamiya said.

"The transgenic papaya is something that saved our industry."

The next step in the GMO debate in Hawaii will be before the state Legislature.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee today passed a resolution calling for a study on the safety of GMO and the economics of labeling them. The resolution is expected to go to the House in the next few days.

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