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Coffee City

Melissa Allison follows the world's biggest coffee-shop chain and other Seattle caffeine purveyors.

September 20, 2010 at 1:41 PM

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Genetically modified coffee company in Hawaii sold

Posted by Melissa Allison

The Food & Drug Administration considers this week whether to allow the production of genetically modified salmon, which if it is allowed would not be labeled as such. It would be the first genetically altered animal allowed as food in the U.S.

Engineered crops have been permitted -- and not labeled -- for years, including genetically modified coffee.

In 1999, the University of Hawaii was granted a U.S. patent on coffee that's genetically altered to stop growing just short of maturity so that berries are at the same stage when they are picked, The Independent in London reported. The coffee is then ripened by a chemical spray.

Integrated Coffee Technologies in Hawaii markets that coffee and engineered coffee trees to yield caffeine-free beans. It was sold this summer by Pacific Land & Coffee, which has been hemorrhaging cash. Integrated Coffee and Coscina Brothers Coffee were bought by former officers and directors for $110,000.

Kona growers and others are concerned about Integrated Coffee's engineering, and many including PCC Natural Markets in Seattle see the altered coffee as a threat to small farmers. In 2008, the Hawaii County Council banned genetically modified coffee on the big island, but the legislature rejected a state-wide ban.

Integrated Coffee appears to have been behind the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, which created the first decaffeinated coffee trees in 2003, the BBC reported.

In 2004, vandals destroyed a genetically altered coffee crop in French Guiana, after researchers there determined that they had found a way to protect crops from moth larvae. (But had they tried disrupting moth sex first?)

And in 2006, Nestle patented another form of genetically modified coffee in Europe. It altered the beans to make its instant coffee more soluble.

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