Old School Breeding: The Better Alternative to GMOs


In a disappointing blow to the anti-GMO movement, a federal court in Hawaii has denied a local ordinance (Ordinance 960) that would ban pesticides, striking down one of the first grassroots initiatives to regulate GMOs at the local level.

The case between Kauai County and the Big Ag corps Syngenta, BASF, DuPont, and Dow Chemical was essentially about whether or not the local legislature had the right to require these companies to protect certain areas from pesticide spray and require local notification when plants were going to be sprayed. According to Mike Ludwig of Truth Out, the ruling, by Judge Barry Kurren, was a matter of jurisdictional power of the county:

This decision in no way diminishes the health and environmental concerns of the people of Kauai," Kurren wrote in the order overturning the ordinance. "The court’s ruling simply recognizes that the state of Hawaii has established a comprehensive framework for addressing the application of restricted-use pesticides and the planting of GMO crops, which presently precludes local regulation by the county."

However, we also know that those Big Ag corporations, who use Hawaii’s tropical climate to test GMOs throughout the year, had their own interest in seeing the demise of this ordinance. But the fight is far from over according to Kauai’s council:

This issue is not going away. Wherever the battle is, the people will be there," said Gary Hooser, a Kauai county council member and architect of Ordinance 960.  "If it’s at the state legislature, we will be there. If it’s in a court of appeal, we will be there. The people of Hawaii have learned too much to go backwards."

What might it look like if the the Syngentas of the world were to lay down their GMOs and seek out alternatives that weren’t so harmful to human and environmental health? It might look like the work of Jorge Dubcovsky and Tamar Krugman, who are using traditional plant breeding techniques with new gene identification technology to develop high protein, drought-resistant crops that are GMO free. Richard Blaustein of Forward explains their work and how it has big promise:

[Krugman’s] work on drought-resistant wheat does not involve the controversial technology of transferring genes from one species to another, but is instead a type of classical breeding with new gene identification techniques that match wheat strains with particular traits. Currently, Krugman is crossing samples to maintain the best of the wild traits while removing the wild wheat features that necessitated domestication in the first place. (Separating the grain from the plant, for example, is easier to do with domesticated grain.) In a few years, Krugman expects to be able to introduce a new variety of wheat that can grow with very little water and produce a large yield.

While one group is fighting to protect itself against the dangers of pesticides and GMOs, others are striving towards more sustainable solutions. Though we are extremely disappointed in the Hawaii ruling, we are happy to know that there are great folks out there working hard for our collective futures.


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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