Genetic Engineering in Agriculture
April 18, 2013

Minor Skirmishes In The Great Debate Over Genetic Engineering In Agriculture

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Officials and scientists across the United States are debating the role of genetic engineering in agriculture. While some see genetically modified foods as a sign of technological progress and a way to maximize profits, others see it as a potential hazard with unknown effects for the public health.

In Oregon, state legislators recently heard testimony on several bills that would affect genetic engineering in the agricultural industry. These bills would require labels on all agriculture GMOs, as well as ban the importation genetically altered fish.

"We have a right to know what's in our food," Scott Bates, of the advocacy group GMO Free Oregon, told the state´s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. He added the technology has not proven to be free of risk for consumers.

Currently, Oregon does not have state restrictions on growing GMOs, generally leaving the US Department of Agriculture in charge of deciding whether genetic engineering in an agricultural product is safe for the farmer´s field and the store shelf.

Other states are taking notice of the genetic engineering farms are now embracing as a new way to improve crop yields. In Hawaii, some lawmakers and scientists are at odds over how to proceed with respect to agricultural genetic engineering, with some scientists campaigning against the techniques.

"I compare GMOs in a way to steroids because steroids are the easy way to go. It makes it easier for people in sports to enjoy but there's side effects," University of Hawaii agriculture professor Hector Valenzuela told local news station KHNL.

In pushing for mandatory labels for GMOs, Valenzuela cited potential secondary impacts, including the ℠contamination´ of non-GMO farms with modified seeds and increased pesticide spraying that many GMOs require.

"So in terms of what adverse effects, you have to ask questions also of the potential side effects of consuming all of those pesticides," Valenzuela said. For a major importer like Hawaii, the debate over genetic engineering in agriculture poses a unique conundrum, since the island´s limited space places a premium on maximizing yield.

Papaya farmer Ken Kamiya told the local news station genetic engineering saved his livelihood by developing a papaya that is resistant to viruses.

"I wiped out once in the 70s, then I moved up the coast to Laie to plant another field and another five years of good harvest. Virus comes in again and the 80s we were almost out of business," Kamiya said. "The transgenic papaya is something that saved our industry."