Shoots from the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii – Feb. 4, 2004-Biotechnology is Important for the Economy of This State

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Biotech farm acreage continues to increase at double-digit rates as farmers and farm states are reaping the benefits and consumer acceptance of biotech food products is on the upswing, according to Linda Thrane, executive director of the Council for Biotechnology Information, and Barry Ryan, research associate in the Department of Applied Economics of the University of Minnesota at a recent meeting in Honolulu.

Thrane and Ryan spoke at a meeting, held on Jan. 13, sponsored by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii (GRIH), Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, Hawaii Crop Improvement Association and the Hawaiian Alliance for Responsible Technology and Science (HART). The aim was to educate Hawaii’s legislators, business community and the public as to the importance of biotechnology for the economy of this state.


Emphasizing the importance of public education on this issue Linda Thrane noted how incorrect and bad information about biotechnology has led to its poor reputation in Europe. Allowing a similar situation to occur here would have severe consequences for Hawaii because biotech already has a large impact upon both the economy and the agricultural community. For example, genetic improvement has already saved Hawaii’s papaya industry by protecting it against a destructive disease that had devastated the industry.

Biotech crops are gaining ground in the U.S. and at double digit growth rates for the last seven years. The untold story is that one third of the crops in the developing world are now biotech crops. Altogether, there are seven million farmers around the world growing biotech crops.

The documented benefits of biotech cover many areas. Annual production in the U.S. has increased by 4 billion pounds a year due to increased yields. On the other hand, pesticide spraying has been reduced by 46 million pounds a year because biotech crops are more insect resistant. The potential is for a increased reduction of pesticide use to 117 million pounds a year.

Biotech crops require less tillage, so no-till acres increased to 35 percent to 55 million acres. This reduced soil erosion by 1 billion tons a year, and this, in turn, improves water quality. Air quality is also improved as less tillage means fewer tractor usage putting fewer tractor engine emissions into the atmosphere.

Consumer research shows that public awareness is low about the extent consumers already benefit from biotech foods. The public isn’t paying much attention because in the main it already considers biotech crops and food products safe. There isn’t a serious risk in the public’s minds, and most people agree with the benefits. Food gatekeeper’s (Moms) perception of biotech is on the upswing and most in this category also consider such foods safe.

China, Mexico and the U.S. have the most favorable views, and Indonesia also expects benefits for the farmers and consumers in that country. Those in China and Indonesia think it will improve food in those countries. A majority of people in the countries with such favorable views are willing to try Biotech crop foods without apprehension.

There are many areas of crop improvement with Biotech foods. Disease resistance has been heightened for a number of crops. Tomatoes with 3.5 time more Lycopene, a cancer fighting antioxidant. Omega-3 oils have been elevated in Canola oil. Edible vaccines are being developed against retroviruses.

Biotech also creates knowledge intensive, high paying jobs and this helps Hawaii. Biotech is already a global technology and Hawaii cannot afford to be left behind in this area. The people of Hawaii need to be educated about biotechnology because support grows with knowledge. Linda Thrane ended her presentation on this note.

The second speaker was Barry Ryan, M.S. – Research Associate – Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota covered the economic status of Biotech throughout the nation and Hawaii in particular. Total Biotech Value is more than $20 billion, with most of the benefit going to the Midwest. Agricultural benefits increase with the adoption of Biotech.

Eight crops have been the focus of most research and study: corn, soybeans, cotton, rapeseed/canola, wheat, potatoes, sugar beets and rice. Since 1958 there has been an 81 percent rate of return on research. It takes years, even decades, to get a payoff on research on Biotech.

Biotechnology creates knowledge based jobs, jobs that require higher education and pay 1.5 times more than the average Hawaii job, at an average of $59,000 a year. These are high tech positions such as microbiologist or molecular engineer.

The seed industry was a $49 million industry in Hawaii in 2003. This includes local wages, state and local taxes and other direct operating expenses associated with seed production. This industry is the leading edge of seed production comprising the latest genetic improvements and has seen huge growth in Hawaii the last decade. These innovations in the seed industry take 3 or 4 years to develop from today.

These seeds are not used in agricultural production but are sent to the mainland for further propagation and testing. As the total seed sector value grows this translates into farm jobs, better wages and an improved local economy. Agriculture is an important area to diversify since sales in the traditional crops such as pineapple are flat and are not anticipated to increase.

The biotech industries also bring their own visitors to the islands, such as researchers, increasing tourism and tourist dollars spent here. This also increases the economic gains due to the influence of increasing the biotech industry.

All this requires a commitment to research and development. Hawaii, with its year around growing season climate for many crops is the idea place for this research and development. Educating the public as to the positive advantages already enjoyed by consumers from biotech is necessary for it to continue receive the necessary support. With education and knowledge comes acceptance.

In the final analysis, biotech is very beneficial to the environment. Increased yields means fewer acres need be plowed and planted, which in turn saves wild areas. Increased production per acre increases the available land for other uses by getting more return from the existing base. This makes the current farm land more productive and saves wild areas, such as the rainforest, from the need for further encroachment. In the end, those in the environmental movement who are now opposing Biotech will be among its greatest supporters when they learn the truth about the true effects of biotechnology.

”’Don Newman, senior policy analyst for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Hawaii’s first and only free market public policy institute focused on individual freedom and liberty, can be reached at:”’ ”’See the GRIH Web site at:”’

”’This editorial is intended to provoke thought, discussion and an examination of issues. It does not reflect official policy of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.”’

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