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bobvilax2000
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Posted Wed Apr 30, 2008, 8:02pm
Subject: GMO Coffee
 

I don't post often, but I have made comments regarding human health, nutrition, and some curtains being pulled over our eyes. My interests and reading dive deeper than simple cholesterol, however. I'll spare any commentaries since nobody likes the doom and gloom guy that sits in the corner. Now, does anyone know the status on the research with GMO coffee? I would think that it is safe to say that the respectable farmers that our average coffeegeek sources their beans from would shy away from GMO, but I was wondering if anyone "in the biz" could give some comments to me. Last I read was that some of the larger Brazilian farmers were researching it to reduce caffeine and increase resistance to weather and insects.

- -Barrett
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lionsgate
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lionsgate
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Posted Sat May 3, 2008, 1:11am
Subject: Re: GMO Coffee
 

Oh boy, this is a hot issue here in Hawaii.  UH scientists want to test a decaf GMO on Oahu.   Kona and other Hawaiian coffee farmers are legitimately concerned about a total market crash of our brand if this comes to fruition.  Who wants to pay a premium price for the perception of a GM contaminated bean?  We'd definitely lose our Japanese customers and most of our specialty coffee fans across the globe.  

The worst part of this story is that whole Hawaiian coffee industry banded together (no mean feat) to support a moratorium Bill in our legislature.  We got shot down.  Damn politicos.....

But of course, it's about more than just market share.  It's about the failure of GMOs to show long-term success at battling insects without the pest evolving to beat the modification.  Or the ability to prove drought-resistance without sacrificing flavor.  Or the fact the GM strains have a way of wandering out into the general population and causing problems.

Do we really need a decaf tree that bad?  Not here.  Wish we could make it go away.

 
Lions Gate Farms
www.coffeeofkona.com
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GC7
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Joined: 7 Jan 2008
Posts: 182
Location: Westchester County, NY
Posted Sat May 3, 2008, 10:45am
Subject: Re: GMO Coffee
 

I do not want to debate genetically modified organisms in this forum.  However, I have been working with "recombinant DNA" for over THIRTY (30) years now modifying bacteria, cells in culture and mice.  I have not worked with plants but I have followed this area as well.

In my opinion, there has been a HISTERICAL and baseless ranting over this topic by a group of fear mongers.  Whether a specific experiment is successful or not is no different if traditional genetic crosses are used or if it is done through recombinant methodology. At the end of the day GM foods can help to solve a huge health and nutrition problem in the world.  However, not if the histerical naysayers continue to block progress.
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lionsgate
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Posted Sat May 3, 2008, 4:29pm
Subject: Re: GMO Coffee
 

HI GC7.  I agree with you that there are many useful and beneficial GMO's. But there are some that are not so beneficial.    My comments were merely my opinion on coffee, and specifically coffee here in Hawaii.  The market reality is that the Specialty coffee buyers from Europe and Japan would not buy our coffee if there was even the perception of gmo contamination.  This is not a rant, this is a reality.  The commercial papaya export market here crashed after gmo papayas were introduced (and then spread by pollination throughout the island).  

I hold a MS in Environmental Science and spent 15 years as an enviro engineer before I came home to the family coffee business.  I am not a hysterical naysayer.  I am an informed businesswoman.  And it would be nice if our local politicians would listen to the needs of the farmers (and local taxbase), rather than the wishes of off-island Monsanto-funded scientists.    "Progress" is in the eye of the beholder.

 
Lions Gate Farms
www.coffeeofkona.com
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GC7
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Location: Westchester County, NY
Posted Sun May 4, 2008, 6:50am
Subject: Re: GMO Coffee
 

LionsGate - The hysterical arguments I was referring to were not from you or well meaning businessmen but from the "pseudo scientists" spreading their potential doomsday scenarios about genetically modified animals or plants.  Sorry for the confusion.  I don't think this a good forum for a discussion of this topic.  I sympathize with businesses and farmers who could benefit along with the downstream end users of cheaper and more nutritional products.

Isn't (unwanted) cross polination a problem for maintaining pure stocks regardless of whether the "contamination" comes from conventional plant sources or GM ones? -exdcept perhaps for the
"hysteria" regarding the potential harmful nature of these products.
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lost
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Posted Sun May 4, 2008, 7:31am
Subject: Re: GMO Coffee
 

I believe there is an article in Sweet Maria's collection concerning this. This gist of the argument was that while the modified plants produced better yields and were more resistant to pests, diseases etc, some people thought that the taste of the coffee suffered. The consensus being that while heirloom varieties have problems, they produced a better tasting cup.
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konacoffeefarmer
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konacoffeefarmer
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Posted Sat May 31, 2008, 5:31pm
Subject: Re: GMO Coffee
 

Upfront: I am not a scientist, not pro or against GM food technology. I am simply examining the issue from a marketing perspective.

Problem for us Kona coffee farmers is that we have a premium 'brand image' to maintain which doesn't go along with the image GM food has in the public opinion. If there's any positive image attached to GM foods it is that it may prevent a food crisis. But coffee is not really essential in feeding the masses, and especially gourmet coffee is being considered an 'affordable luxury'. As any specialty food market item it is extremely susceptible to changes in perception of a few 'opinion leaders'. When (the especially finicky luxury goods) opinion leaders perceive any likely loss in quality or image they stop buying or switch to other brands in droves. Which would ruin the Kona coffee farmers with their very tight profit margins and kill the industry altogether quickly. Even the infamous Kona Blends.

The total lack of even trying to alter any negative public perception of GM foods by the respective corporations is also much more obvious in the case of a 'luxury' food item like coffee. Their sole reliance on lobbying efforts on behalf of GM food technology within the US legal system seems to be very successful indeed. As seen again and again by blocking any efforts by single states to label GM foods recognizably for the customer, which is considered "unreasonable fear mongering" instead of being mandatory. The correct way (from a consumers point of view) for the corporations would be to launch massive PR and educational campaigns to counter any unfounded fears or lack of knowledge the customer may have. And this is the core of the problem with how the GM industry has worked itself into this mess it finds itself increasingly in: They thought customers wouldn't understand or even notice or care that they got their foods "changed". Or they simply had the glorious idea to save the advertising and PR dollars because lobbying politicians is cheaper. Which from a marketing standpoint is outright suicidal because you NEVER EVER underestimate a consumer! People got pissed and I think rightfully so, because we are not talking about a possibly faulty product, or hidden clause in the small print of an insurance, or a ripped zipper in pants, but about what humans put INTO their bodies! More or less the GM industry joined with politicians by telling folks: "Don't ask. Eat it. It's ok!"

If you have ever been to a European supermarket you'll see GM foods clearly marked as such and they are prettier, bigger, perfect, cheaper. But those GM shelves are always full, while the other ones are getting restocked more frequently. Again, lack of PR and educational efforts by the GM industry and a bit suspicious but mostly uninformed consumer rather not eats what he or she don't know. Yet the US tries to bully now the EU into changing their labeling laws! Instead of what every other company has to do: pay for advertising, education, promotions. If a Volvo has a new breaking system, the company spend millions of telling people why it works better. And it will be bought. Not so the GM corporations. And this disenchants politicians and us voters, because I full heartedly believe that being a politician you are most of the time between a rock and a hard place and often can't see the forest for the trees. Our Hawaiian politicians i.e. think that they are protecting jobs and the future. This is not in the case of Kona coffee though:

Hawaiian coffee farmers, stores, processors, The State, the tourist industry, all had spent money on promoting the islands, its products, and its coffees. Lots of it. For many many years. In fact, Kona coffee has one of the longest brand building effort in the the USA on its record! Over more than 150 years the Hawaiian government had spent their taxpayers money to promote its coffees (e.g. in 1901 today's equivalent of $125,000; in 1977 today's equivalent of $ 470,000 for advertising). In addition there are millions of clicks of Google and Yahoo Kona coffee searches paid for from the meager profits of small farmers, coffee organizations pool their dollars to go to trade shows, everyday tourists need to be attracted to get away from the beaches and to visit coffee farms, tour bus drivers getting bribed to stop at farm stands, translators for chinese and japanese and french web page versions being hired, web programmers being paid for the websites, bags, labels being printed, roasters bought, cruise ships land excursions being organized, coffee festivals and competitions being held, newspaper ads and PR agencies are being paid. All and much more just to promote Kona coffee.

With a little bit of research and economics one could put a real dollar number behind what it had cost the State of Hawaii, its citizens and its coffee industry to the point where it is now. And I roughly calculate that this total amount of promoting Kona coffee would be in the hundreds of millions, maybe even in the billion dollar range, over its 150 year history.

A shell-corporation of the GM/Seed industry named "Integrated Coffee Technologies" in Honolulu threatens us coffee farmers by convincing the Honolulu politicians that the customers can be told: "Don't ask. Drink it. It'll be ok." It ain't so in reality. I got four inquiring calls from long term customers the day USAToday ran its headline "Hawaii approves GM Coffee". None of them had ordered since, even that I had probably spent a couple of hours on the phone to 'educate' them about GM foods. Why do I have to reassure them about something I don't know much about? On my expense? I call it robbery: of the State, generations of hard working coffee farmers, its people.

The USA is very inexperienced and rather unwilling to protect its appellations like Europe or Japan does. Yet they do exist in the US too: Smithfield Ham, Vidalia Onions, Kentucky Bourbon, Napa Wine, Idaho Potatoes are some of the few foods which enjoy protection but are constantly under fire. Think Kobe beef, New Zealand lamb, Parma ham, Burgundy wine and Caspian caviar - just a few of where protective and qualitative laws of origin give a customer the assurance of knowing what it is. A booming market just on the other end of the spectrum from Twinkys and pringles.

The new COOL labeling laws focuses on food safety and origin labeling. Not covering Kona coffee yet. In the meantime the local Hawaiian coffee organizations can develop a sticker/logo for their coffees saying something like "NON-GMO COFFEE". That's legal and raises immediate consumer awareness to the issue, maybe even forces other coffee companies to follow suit. Leaving then a big hurdle to overcome for any future "Integrated Coffee Technologies" customers, who will need to create a new market for an unmarked and therefore identifiable "GM coffee" with their own money. But hopefully, probably shy away from doing so and make the robbery of our good Kona coffee name then somehow undone.
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bobvilax2000
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Joined: 15 Apr 2005
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Location: Cincinnati, OH
Expertise: I love coffee

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Posted Sun Jun 1, 2008, 3:34pm
Subject: Re: GMO Coffee
 

Oh, I feel bad. I forgot that I ever posted this. Regardless, thank you, Mr. Oster, for your opinion.

My fear of GMO isn't necessarily doomsday-esqe, but I don't feel that science knows enough about the trace components that contribute to the health of us or the health of the planet. Early on certain components of vegetable have been selectively bred out of our common produce because they speed decomposition, one of these being Omega3 and now we know that most people are deficient in this fat and this deficiency hurts health. We evolved to consume foods of specific ratios and I'm afraid that the limitations of current knowledge combined with further tampering will cause more problems. For example, we still don't know what exactly makes antioxidants do what they do, but we do know that alone, in a capsule, they do nothing. Now I realize the benefits that these foods will bring for poor countries, but I feel that, as Mr. Oster says, there is a "Don't ask. Eat it. It's ok!" mindset being given to us, if we're even informed at all. (Much of this paragraph is to reinforce that I'm not a fear monger, but a informed consumer. It disturbs me when I can't inform myself at the market.)

To tie this into coffee, yeah, they can remove and alter vulnerable components, but by tampering with the bean how will this effect the trace components that contribute to the delicate flavors?  Being among the most chemically complex foods, many of these chemicals are unidentified, this is a threat to the specialty industry.

- -Barrett
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konacoffeefarmer
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konacoffeefarmer
Joined: 31 May 2008
Posts: 27
Location: Kealakekua
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Posted Mon Jun 23, 2008, 11:38pm
Subject: Re: GMO Coffee
 

I agree with you: just based on the complexity of the coffee bean and its myriad of flavor components alone, I think they will fail with their attempts to come up with anything halfway decent. After all it has more components than any other food we consume. For a while i followed the efforts of a now defunct company in Canada who wanted to crossbreed goats with spiders. No kidding - just type in spider goat milk in  google and see what comes up. ( www.nexiabiotech.com is the company's website). The promise was that spider yarn is stronger than steel in its specific molecular structure plus extremely lightweight. Having those genes bred into high milk producing goats would offer a superior lightweight material. Beating everything we have currently available for sails, armor, packaging and much more.  I was in contact with the company to get any revolutionary packaging material for a client of mine at the time.
The genetically manipulated goats got bred to their milk producing age/sexual maturity of three years to see if it works. One three year period after the other passed. Nothing happened. Company gave up, money being wasted, investors milked for how much they were worth. But a doomsday scenario was created. Morale of the story is: At least they chose Canada who is not exactly standing with a sheep in their flag but an acorn. And not New Zealand or Australia with their economy tied to goats and sheep raising. So why in this case was Hawaii and not French Guinea or Thailand chosen as a location, who have no stake in coffee?
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