How genetic engineering is affecting Earth

  • Ryan Jake S. Constantino

Food is one of the fundamental needs from birth. Less than two centuries ago, production of food in the beautiful islands of Hawaii only consisted of hunting, harvesting and farming. Usually it would take a long time before these foods arrived at the dining tables of families.

Today, science has allowed the mass production of food. Unfortunately, the market has gone after the profits of technology, not letting us recognize how food is made or how to use the resources properly. We have seen the advent of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The Hawaiian Islands are now home to more genetically modified crop experimentation than anywhere else in the world. Cyrus Sutton, the director of “Island Earth,” takes us on a guided tour of what decades of mostly unrestricted agricultural and chemical experimentation has done to Hawaii.

The intended goal in creating such a film is simply to inform and inspire people around the world to go beyond the issues and activism and actually participate in making a change for the better.

One side of the debate is about the safety of the people and the fact that taking control of one’s food supply is a form of personal power. We know that today six companies own 90 percent of the world’s seeds and these companies are shifting to the modern genetic engineering technology.

The problem is that they are dumping these chemicals on thousands of acres of crops in Kauai.

Fortunately, the people of Kauai are making their voices heard. One of them is Malia Chun. She is an activist from Kauai and she fights to preserve the health of her community. Another important figure mentioned in the film is Dustin Barca.

Though his candidacy to become mayor failed, he tried to remove himself from the food industry, while educating others and trying to take back power in local communities from the powerful hands of the big companies who tend to make the rules.

Some believe that using biotech engineering is the solution to feeding the world. One such person is Cliff Kapono, a University of California-San Diego graduate with a dilemma. He hopes to use his chemistry expertise to give back to his community thinking that it would benefit the Hawaiians in a positive way. But he also struggles to understand and reconcile his science training with his ancestral heritage.

Each side of the argument has its own strength and flaws. I’m somewhat in the middle, curious and confused as to where I should stand. What I am really certain about is the potential of local and diversified agriculture. Way back, one in three people were farmers.

Today there’s only one in 60 due to the progression of technology over the years and changes in the way we live and the kinds of work we seek. Sometimes when big corporations get involved, we sacrifice quality of crops for efficiency and convenience. We all should be rational. We need to compare the costs and benefits to make important decisions.

In this case, the negative effects of GMOs in the agriculture system outweigh the benefits. Its damaging effects should lead the government and other regulatory bodies to take action immediately to protect the public and the environment.

The film is uplifting most of the time. I consider it a very important film that addresses a controversial topic in a balanced way. “Island Earth” clearly showed that diversity is vital to a healthy and sustainable community with the proper use of natural resources.

There should always be a balance between the two worlds of farming to prevent huge problems within our communities. The film led me to think and learn more about changing how we grow and consume food, both locally and globally.

In order to look forward to a long and healthy future, we need to focus on local farmers who still choose to grow their crops the natural way. Foods that are grown organically have been shown to be beneficial because they contain vitamins and minerals that are not combined with chemicals. In the article “The land ethic,” Aldo Leopold observes that “the conquering role is eventually self-defeating.”

As we attempt to conquer the food industry by imposing our own rules on how to generate food, we are essentially going to defeat ourselves at our own game. Rather than creating more foods that contain GMOs, we should focus more on the naturally occurring wonders that nature has performed for millions of years.

Nature is a way of life, something that we should be very careful about manipulating. Organic farmers are an excellent example of people who decided to work with nature rather than against it.

The safety of food is still hanging in the balance.

Since the GMOs are so prevalent in the food industry, stopping the production of GM foods is near impossible. However, regulating the number of GMO products produced and chemicals being used every year can help reduce or alleviate the problems that Hawaii is facing right now.

Despite their disagreements over genetic modification, I truly believe that farmers, scientists and politicians in Hawaii must come to an agreement by returning to diversity and local food production with fewer pesticides, which is the key to a safe and stable future.

Cyrus Sutton once said in an interview, “If we want to change the world, we’ve got to change ourselves. Things will only change if we lead the way.” His film is a step in that direction.


Ryan Jake S. Constantino, 18, is a freshman majoring in mathematics (3+2 engineering concentration) at Hawaii Pacific University.

  1. Joan Conrow November 7, 2017 1:20 pm Reply

    I find it interesting that HPU students have produced at least two op-ed pieces that are anti-GMO and based on Cyrus Sutton’s seriously misinformed film. Perhaps it’s a class assignment by an ideologically driven teacher?

  2. Pete Antonson November 7, 2017 2:17 pm Reply

    This debate has been ongoing for years now. It is NOT a struggle between BIG AG and little bitty activists with hearts of gold. You need to stay away from inaccurate propaganda vehicles, like the film referenced, and dig deeper into the very well established validity of the other side. Look into European Organic Conglomerates and what their influence is and why they fund Greenpeace’s antiGMO efforts at $250 million/year and what that does to the credibility of information you are receiving. Next, discover what a scientific consensus means; you probably already consider it gospel regarding climate change. Finally, explore information from Cornell University’s AG Dept. for more valuable educational opportunities than what Mr. Barca provides!

  3. Joni Kamiya November 7, 2017 5:19 pm Reply

    Once again, the unfounded facts are rising up in the media in the form of movies. This young student goes directly to a movie and believes the narrative without any critical questioning of analysis of what’s being said and the actual evidence.

    I hope you ask more questions before repeating unsubstantiated claims that have torn our communities apart.

  4. Johnny Appleseed November 7, 2017 8:57 pm Reply

    “Out of the mouth of babes…” It’s their future. I’m listening.

  5. Pete Antonson November 8, 2017 2:19 pm Reply

    Over 2000 peer reviewed studies, over the past 10 years, have, without an exception, proven the safety of GMO. Four of the 2000 are longitudinal, ongoing studies that exceed 20 yrs. Last year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, released “Genetically Engineered Crops: Past Experience and Future Prospects.” It reviewed 20 yrs of evidence and concluded “No conclusive evidence of cause and effect relationship between GE crops and environmental problems, no evidence of a difference in risks to human health between GE crops and conventional.”

    Every major scientific body and regulatory agency in the world has reviewed the research about GMOs and declared it as safe as conventional crops.

    The bans that exist, like the propaganda movie referenced here, are strictly political; not scientific.

  6. Manawai November 9, 2017 7:49 am Reply

    Ryan ought to keep to math because when it comes to genetics and agriculture, all he does is regurgitate the unfounded spewings of people like Vandana Shiva.

  7. Daniel November 14, 2017 6:32 am Reply

    A couple of thoughts:

    Everyone should be encouraged to look into issues from multiple sides and take the time to research who the voices and interests behind those issues are.

    Almost since the very start of farming humanity has been experimenting with selecting seeds for desirable qualities like yield or pest or weather resistance etc. and that can be done responsibly. It can also be done through modern science and be done responsibly. But when there are a couple of agro-chemical giants clearly attempting to control the supply, the tech, as well as the data and voices in the discussion, surely that’s cause for concern.

    And the health issues in the communities depicted in the film aren’t being attributed to GMO lab experiments or responsibly-produced GMO farming practices – they’re part of the decades long extreme pesticide experimentation by companies who are beholden to shareholders and profits, not necessarily good science, or debate, or public health, or feeding the world.

    Science is a method and a tool that should be empowering the best minds of our generations to help humanity and when big business gets involved, that is rarely the main objective.

    Community leaders and citizens should have access to a variety of voices and information to help make the decisions that affect them locally – not have to fight an uphill battle against the limitless funds of the companies at every step.

    And, there’s a lot of insight to be gained from how traditional cultures managed land, food sources, and people. If we combine sustainable farming practices with modern technologies and the right intentions then we may have actual solutions – and business rarely seems capable at arriving at those solutions without demand from citizens and governments.

    I do think that there are good business out there and that, on the whole, business will inevitably change for the better, too. But in the meantime, we need to take inspiration from young scientists with good intentions, academics who are unbiased and not funded from within the industry, civic leaders and citizens who want to protect their communities, and a combination of history and innovation to help direct our course.

    If you mischaracterize Island Earth as an “anti-GMO” film I believe you’ll have misunderstood it and have missed a dozen other points that are important for our society to be talking about.

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