GMO Clarification

Dear Editor,

Regarding the issue of human genes in sugar cane, and the role of HARC, I would like to respond.
I was misquoted, but it was a minor and understandable error. Actually, the reporter did a much better job than most reporters do on this technical and controversial topic. Her October 10th article captured both the spirit and content of my presentation fairly well.
Ordinarily, a simple misquote doesn’t deserve any further attention. A few well placed commas would change the meaning of the sentence attributed to me completely, as I explain below. However, Ms. Whalen and HARC’s effort to insult me and confuse the issues deserves a response.

1. In 2002, a permit was issued to HARC for the testing of sugar cane genetically engineered with human genes. This information comes from a data base listing all permits for the field testing of genetically modified plants.*

2. HARC is the new name for the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association, founded in 1895, but now using the precious land and water of Hawai‘i for their new plantation economy based on patented genetically engineered crops.

3. HARC’s letter to the Dispatch is full of interesting but irrelevant information. My point, which they do not dispute, is that sugar cane engineered with human genes has been tested by HARC, in Hawai‘i. What we do not know, and what HARC did not disclose, is where these experimental crops are being grown.

4. The public has a right to know what is being grown around them, especially food crops. In February, 2005, a court in Hawai‘i found that the secrecy that surrounds the agrochemical industry’s biotech crops is unjustified. The USDA was told it would have to disclose locations of biopharmaceutical test sites, but that information has not become publicly available. The public still does not know what is being grown, or where, and the database listings are full of entries marked “CBI” meaning the names of the genes used are “confidential business information” and therefore not available to the public.

5. As HARC admits, they are using a new experimental unproven technology and yet they claim to adhere to certain safety protocols. As a journalist, I have investigated the field practices of GMO growers in Hawai‘i and I have found them to be appallingly negligent. GMOs are routinely left out for animals, birds, and insects to eat. There have been documented cases of biopharmaceutical contaminating the human food supply in the U.S. I do not know where the human gene sugar cane was grown or how it was handled. HARC makes it sound like they are being careful. But my point is that these experimental drugs and genes should never be used in food crops in the first place. And they certainly should never be grown in the open air, where the same crops are also grown for human consumption. My point was a warning to everyone in Hawai‘i to be vigilant as long as the islands continue to be used as an open air laboratory and GMO seed factory.

Getting back to the original Dispatch article, there was more than one misquote. For instance, California is the not only state with counties banning GMOs. But the statement at issue here is easily understood. It has me saying: “sugar cane that used to be on this island had human genes…” Actually, I don’t think I said it like that, but assuming I did, just inserting two commas into that sentence would read as follows: “sugar cane, that used to be on this island, had human genes…” And of course, the exact wording, as spoken, would have included pauses, inflections, and the entire context.

f I said anything that was confusing, I apologize. I came to Moloka‘i to speak to the community about what’s going on with agricultural biotechnology in Hawai‘i. I am an independent journalist and do not work for or represent anyone else. I am not paid for this work and I cover my own expenses.

Why do I do it? Because I love Hawai‘i. Because I want to support the work being done here to restore traditional lifeways and ensure food and water is used for the benefit of the land and the people who live respectfully on this land. In return, I was given so much more. I came away with a real sense of hope, having been fed delicious food grown on the island by its organic farmers, inspired by the amazing work and vision of the community, and deeply moved by beautiful voices of the high school classes that sang with such aloha during my visit. For all of that, and more, mahalo nui loa.
Claire Hope Cummings


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