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Hawaiian Coffee Growers
Calls for GE Moratorium

July 17, 2002

Kona coffee growers seeking moratorium on genetically altered coffee
Associated Press

HONOLULU

Kona coffee growers are seeking a moratorium on any genetically modified
coffee stock entering the Kona region, saying they are concerned that such
coffee could diminish their premium variety.

The Kona Coffee Council is appealing to the state and Hawaii County
governments, the University of Hawaii and the Hawaii Coffee Association to
impose a moratorium.

UH scientists on Oahu and Integrated Coffee Technologies, a private Honolulu
company, are conducting genetic experimentation with coffee. The
experimentation includes development of a decaffeinated bean , a way to
control bean ripening, and disease resistance modification. The Kona council
is afraid research and plants could eventually move to the Kona region and
get mixed in with existing coffee crops. Even if the genetically modified
crop were introduced under controlled experimental conditions, growers are
concerned about the possibility of cross-pollination.

"We cannot be put in the same position our papaya farmers are in, where it
is impossible to find papaya seeds uncontaminated by the genetically
modified strain," said Merle Wood, past president of the council.
Although coffee is considered a self-fertilizing crop, cross-pollination can
happen, Wood said.

But Skip Bittenbender, an extension specialist with the UH College of
Tropical Agriculture, said cross-pollination is possible only if an entire
plant is used.

He also said the plant that UH scientists are transforming is the same plant
that is now growing in Kona.

The council is not against the research, but wants strict regulations and
guarantees in place before the introduction of any genetically modified
coffee plants, said current president Christine Shepherd.

If Kona coffee is tainted with genetically modified strains, it won't sell
as a premium gourmet coffee, Shepherd said. And that could put 650 Kona
farmers out of business, she said.

The farm value of the Big Island coffee crop is estimated at $11.9 million
for the 2001-02 season, according to the Hawaii Agricultural Statistics
Service.

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