Lab work on taro opposed
Farmers say the University of Hawaii got the wrong message from protests when it decided last week to start transferring three of its taro patents to Hawaiians.
Walter Ritte, a Molokai farmer and staunch opponent of UH's involvement in taro research, said yesterday that Hawaiians do not want the disease-resistant strains of taro bred by the school.
"Hawaiians are saying that the taro cannot be owned, so why would the Hawaiians want to own it?" Ritte said.
UH announced in a news release Friday that it would "assign" the patents on its crossbred taro varieties to Hawaiians. It said discussions were under way within the Hawaiian community to determine the appropriate entity to receive the patents.
Gary Ostrander, UH-Manoa vice chancellor for research and graduate education, declined to elaborate on the negotiations.
Ritte said some groups had been concerned about rescinding the patents, fearing others outside the university could claim them. But he said lawyers have assured him that it would be "almost impossible" for that to happen.
For months, activists, farmers and students have been demanding that the university give up the patents and stop altering taro, a plant many Hawaiians consider sacred. Last month, protesters chained the entrances to the university's medical school in Kakaako.
Chris Kobayashi, whose family has been commercially farming taro on Kauai for 60 years, said patents of the plant, which is used to make poi, should be rescinded because of its cultural significance.
"I don't think anyone should be allowed to patent any life form," said Kobayashi, who farms taro on 10 acres. "Specially taro, it's such a sacred and spiritual plant for Hawaiians."
The patents arose from work conducted by a university faculty member in the 1990s to help Samoan taro growers whose crops were hard hit by a leaf blight.
Plants from Hawaii and Palau were crossbred, producing three strains with increased disease resistance.