Liberals v. Science: As Hawaiians debate GMOs, local legislator committed to science is ostracized

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In November, after months of rancorous debate, the County Council on the Big Island voted to ban biotech companies and GMOs. In another tour de force, New York Times‘s prize winning reporter Amy Harmon profiles the journey of a Hawaii County official committed to separating fears from facts.

Like some others on the nine-member Council, Greggor Ilagan was not even 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 “G.M.O.-free oasis.”

“You just type ‘G.M.O.’ and everything you see is negative,” he told his staff. Opposing the ban also 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 that an engineered variety had saved their fruit from a devastating disease. A study reporting that a diet of G.M.O. corn caused tumors 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, and have provided some tangible benefits.

“Are we going to just ignore them?” Mr. Ilagan wondered.

On Oct. 1, Mr. Ilagan voted to block the bill from moving out of committee….The response to Mr. Ilagan’s vote was swift and unambiguous. He was mocked on Facebook and pilloried in letters from constituents. “You have been influenced by the contrived arguments from the pro-G.M.O. interests,” one letter read. “Many of my fellow Puna residents will seriously consider more progressive candidates for the next Council term.”

Read full, original story: A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically  Modified Crops


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