Considering this last item about the Big Island’s new law, one of the most complete and researched articles that I have read on the subject appeared on the front page of the New York Times in early January written by Times reporter Amy Harmon.

“A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops” details what happens when scientific issues are decided by votes.  The article follows the political and intellectual travails of Hawaii County (Big Island) council member Greggor Ilagan as he tried to navigate through the massive amounts of disinformation being tossed about in the campaign to ban modern biotech crop varieties from the island.

 

For more from Richard Cornett, see What happens if US loses California food production?

 

Harmon does a fantastic job of telling the story of how Ilagan sorted through claims of activists and counterclaims of scientists in reaching his lonely decision to vote against the ban. Here are some excerpts:

• But 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 …

• “Just as many on the political right discount the broad scientific consensus that human activities contribute to global warming, many progressive advocacy groups disregard, reject or ignore the decades of scientific studies demonstrating the safety and wide-reaching benefits” of GMOs, Pamela Ronald, a professor of plant pathology at UC-Davis, wrote on the blog of the nonprofit Biology Fortified …

• Sensitive to the accusation that her bill (to ban GMOs) was anti-science, (council member) Ms. Wille had circulated material to support it. But in almost every case, Mr. Ilagan and his staff found evidence that seemed to undermine the claims…

• Mr. Ilagan discounted the correlations between the rise in childhood allergies and the consumption of GMOs, cited by Ms. Wille and others, after reading of the common mistake of confusing correlation for causation. (One graph, illustrating the weakness of conclusions based on correlation, charted the lockstep rise in organic food sales and autism diagnosis.)

• But Ms. Wille had largely dismissed the opinions of university researchers, citing Monsanto contributions to the university. In 2012, she noted, the company made a one-time donation of $600,000 for student scholarships at the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, an amount that the college said represented only 1 percent of its annual budget that year. She did, however, rely on the opinion of a specialist in organic agriculture practice at the very same university – who supported the bill.

In October, the county council voted for the ban 6 to 3 and the bill, as mentioned, was signed by the mayor on Dec. 5.  Seems “science” is having a hard time gaining a solid foothold in this “Island Paradise,” despite the fact that genetic engineering saved its valuable papaya industry from the dreaded Ringspot Virus in the past. Oh how soon they forget.  Stay tuned for future developments.

 

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