Native Hawaiians Protest Against the Genetic Manipulation of Taro

Walter Ritte
Walter Ritte
Kevin Kelly
Kevin Kelly

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Some native Hawaiians believe the taro plant is the greatest life force of all foods. That's why about a hundred people protested at the state capitol this morning, against the genetic modification of taro.

A senate bill, banning the genetic engineering of taro, could soon die in the 2007 legislative session.

"The taro according to our genealogy as Hawaiians, is the first born, it's our family member. You cannot change the genes of our family member with out the consent of the Hawaiian people," said Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte.

Those who support genetic manipulation of taro feel it serves a valuable purpose in Hawaii.

"I think one of the primary reasons is "crop security," and that's been an effort of agriculture in Hawaii for a long time, "said Kevin Kelly of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Researchers say genetic engineering could help fight the spread of a disease that is killing crops in parts of the south pacific.

"We're at great risk to have this disease come to Hawaii, researchers feel there is no natural resistance to this particular problem and so possibly you could use genetic engineering to help, if this problem ever comes here," said Stephanie Whalen from the Hawaii Agricultural Research Center.

Native Hawaiians feel genetically engineered taro will contaminate the purity of the crop.

"We cannot allow cross pollination, we cannot allow horizontal gene transfer through the soil, those things can happen, and we cannot sit here as Hawaiians and let this happen to our taro," said Walter Ritte.

The bill has crossed over to the house and if there is no hearing scheduled by April 4th, the bill will effectively die this year.