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A councillor’s lonely fight for genetically modified crops | The Indian Express

A councillor’s lonely fight for genetically modified crops. Summary. From the moment the Bill to ban genetically engineered crops on the island of Hawaii was introduced in May, it garnered more vocal support than any the County Council in Kona, Hawaii, had ever considered, even the perennially popular bids to decriminalise marijuana. Public hearings were dominated by recitations of the ills often attributed to genetically modified organisms, or GMOs: cancer in rats, a rise in childhood allergies, out-of-control superweeds, genetic contamination, overuse of pesticides, disappearance of butterflies and bees. Like some others on the nine-member council, Greggor Ilagan was not sure at the outset of the debate exactly what genetically modified organisms were: living things whose DNA has been altered, often with the addition of a gene from a distant species, to produce a desired trait. But he could see why almost all of his colleagues had been persuaded of the virtue of turning the island into what the Bill’s proponents called a “GMO-free oasis”. “You just type ‘GMO’ and everything you see is negative,” he told his staff. Opposing the ban seemed likely to ruin anyone’s re-election prospects. Yet doubts nagged at the councilman, who was serving his first two-year term. The island’s papaya farmers said an engineered variety had saved their fruit from a devastating disease. A study purporting that a diet of GMO corn caused tumours in rats, mentioned often by the ban’s supporters, turned out to have been thoroughly debunked.And University of Hawaii biologists urged the council to consider the global scientific consensus, which holds that existing genetically engineered crops are no riskier than others. “Are we going to just ignore them?” Ilagan wondered. Urged on by Margaret Wille, the ban’s sponsor, who spoke passionately of the need to “act before it’s too late,” the council declined to form a task force to look into such questions before its November vote. But Ilagan, 27, sought answers on his own. In the process, he found himself wrestling with a subject in which popular beliefs often do not reflect scientific evidence. At stake is how to grow healthful food most efficiently, at a time when a warming world and a growing population make that goal all the more urgent. With the GMO Bill, Ilagan often despaired of assembling the information he needed to definitively decide. Every time he answered one question, it seemed, new ones arose. Popular opinion masqueraded convincingly as science, and the science itself was hard to grasp. People who spoke as experts lacked credentials, and GMO critics discounted those with credentials as being pawns of biotechnology companies. So many emails arrived in support of the ban that, as a matter of environmental responsibility, council clerks suspended the custom of printing them for council members. College students, eco-conscious shoppers and talk show celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Dr Oz and Bill Maher warned against consuming food made.
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