The professional anti-biotech alarmists over at the Center for Food Safety are crowing in a press release (not yet available online) that the Hawaii County Council has banned growing biotech coffee and taro. According to the press release:
The new ordinance, which makes it unlawful to grow genetically engineered (GE) coffee or taro anywhere on the Island of Hawaii, was strongly supported by coffee and taro farmers, and passed by a 9-0 vote of the Council on October 9th. …
Coffee growers testified that the planting of genetically engineered coffee would contaminate and damage markets for their premium Kona coffee, costing them their livelihoods. Many cited past episodes where biotech rice and corn have contaminated conventional varieties, resulting in marketplace rejection, dramatically lower prices, and large losses to farmers.
Coffee farmers argued that they would lose their "specialty coffee" status and/or organic certification if biotech coffee were ever planted on Hawaii Island. The Kona coffee industry brings more than $25 million into the state each year.
Beside fears of "contamination," some residents apparently brought up possible health concerns:
There were compelling testimonies from mothers of children who have complex allergies. Allergic reactions are one potential health threat of biotech crops, and taro is known world-wide as one the most hypo-allergenic foods on earth.
Never mind that there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that any of the current varieties of biotech crops cause allergic reactions in people.
The coffee and taro growers should look at what happened to their neighbors who grow biotech papayas. In the 1990s, papaya growing in Hawaii was nearly extinct due to the ringspot virus. Fortunately, researchers developed a biotech variety that resists the virus, thus reviving the industry.
Other researchers have now developed a biotech variety of coffee that is resistant to insects such as the coffee leaf miner. Perhaps those nice Kona coffee growers will change their minds about biotech should the leaf miner ever make it to Hawaii.