GMO debate has been missing economic impacts

A great deal of information has been shared on the issue of genetically modified (or engineered) organisms in preparation for the ballot question this election, but up until this week no study had been released on the economic impact of the seed industry to Maui County’s economy. In order to round out the debate, the Maui Chamber of Commerce, with support from the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, commissioned noted Hawaii economist Paul Brewbaker, principal at TZ Economics, to publish a report on the “Economic Aspects of Maui County’s Seed Industry.” This week that report was shared with Maui Chamber of Commerce members and released to the media.

Here are key economic findings from Brewbaker’s research that cannot be ignored when considering a ban on this industry:

* The seed industry is Hawaii’s largest single agricultural activity, making up one-third of the statewide total. In Maui County, it equates to as much as one-fourth of all agricultural activity. It is the most significant private industry source of external receipts besides tourism in the county.

* Seed farming is Maui’s second-largest agricultural activity after sugar cane and is the largest activity on Molokai.

* There are 770 jobs directly and indirectly associated with the seed industry that would be impacted by the ban, and the number jumps to more than 950 jobs with multiplier effects. At a time when we want to see jobs that increase wages, why ban an industry that pays 45 percent higher average annual earnings compared to the average annual earnings of all workers in Maui County?

* $84.2 million in total Maui County economic output would be in jeopardy with a ban.

* Roughly $4 million in state taxes, plus additional county real property taxes, could be lost.

* The ban relates to all kinds of genetically engineered organisms, extending far beyond corn seed, banning other commercially successful crop varieties such as Rainbow papaya and hampering the development of newer technologies like biofuels.

* A ban would prevent crop improvement research that could significantly improve health and welfare opportunities in the future.

The Maui Chamber of Commerce is opposed to bans that limit our future options. We believe in creating a strong economic environment that supports job growth (not taking jobs away or telling people what their job should be) while also protecting our environment and preserving our quality of life. We support the “triple bottom-line” view of sustainability: economy, environment and social well-being.

We find that the proposed ban is based solely on one perspective – an environmental perspective – without taking into account and adequately weighing the economic and social impacts of the ban. Further, we have not seen any evidence of harm to humans and the environment as some claim. That said, we know science is ever evolving and new things are learned every day. However, we believe that we must use the best science currently available in policymaking and cannot support a “precautionary ban” that would cause irreparable harm when the justification for such an extreme ban has not been proven.

Therefore, we are pleased to bring additional information to light. We encourage all to read Brewbaker’s report, along with the 10-page proposed ban (both available on our website at www.mauichamber.com), and see for yourself how the ballot initiative would bring about job losses, hurt our agricultural community, criminalize farmers and residents, trigger lawsuits, cause a loss of taxes that would have to be made up elsewhere by taxpayers, and more.

We oppose the ban on genetically engineered organisms because it is bad for Maui. Please vote “No” on Nov. 4.

* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.