Biotech Seminar Draws Protest

James Greenwood
James Greenwood
Mililani Trask
Mililani Trask

WAIKIKI (KHNL) A biotechnology seminar in Hawaii is drawing controversy. Supporters say it offers promising new advances on many fronts. But critics say the biotech industry is not protecting the environment, and its successes are overrated.

From the mountains to the seas, thousands of the world's plants and animals could help solve many problems. That's what scientists at this biotechnology summit do: co-opt nature to make medicine, food, and manufacturing components.

There are 360 participants at the conference, from these 200 organizations.

"To make energy that doesn't add to global warming, to make manufacturing processes that are cleaner and greener, and using life forms and enzymes to do what manufacturing plants and toxic chemicals used to do." said James Greenwood of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Opponents accuse the industry of environmentally and morally unsound practices.

"Every Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian has a stake at protecting what is sacred in Hawaii. This is our food and medicine. We need to stand up for it" said biotechnology opponent Mililani Trask.

They're also upset at bioprospectors who patent natural resources. In 2002, The University of Hawaii patented three species of taro.

"These things by law are clearly part of the public trust and they belong to the public and the native. The kalo belongs to all hawaiians and Pacific basin people. It's inappropriate for someone to get a patent on our food and medicine then purport to sell it to us."

"Bred by Native Hawaiians over the course of thousands of years, we feel that these varieties belong to Native Hawaiians. Bioprospecting and patents on life are a symptom of corporate greed." said biotechnology opponent Bill Freese.

Conference officials say opponents have it all wrong.

"We're the green people here. we're the environmentalists. We're protecting the planet."

Activists say: prove it.

The biotech conference ends tomorrow.