Last week, urged on by a vocal crowd of angry protesters, the Kauai County Council passed Gary Hooser’s Bill 2491. The bill places new regulations on agricultural operations that will require disclosure of GMO crops and public notice of pesticide use. The new bill, according to some, represents only the first skirmish in an ongoing war to rid the Island, even the whole state, of GMO industrialized Ag operations.
The bill passed in spite of warnings by Mayor Bernard Carvalho that the county lacks the manpower and funds to do any real enforcement. Hawaii State government officials also said that they already have agricultural oversight within their purview and together with the EPA already have adequate regulatory control over large agricultural operations.
Were the local county politicians simply pandering to the activists, as many observers have asked?
At first, Hawaii’s “Garden Isle,” Kauai might seem like an odd place for a knockdown drag out political battle over GMO (Genetic Modified Organisms) agriculture. But, there are plenty of reasons why major corporations, scientists, environmentalists and farmers from around the world are watching this, usually quiet, tropical paradise very closely.
Some of industrialized agriculture’s major players are engaged in raising seed crops in Hawaii because of its year-round growing season. Essentially, three crops can be harvested per year as opposed to one in more northern climes. Hawaii’s bountiful rainfall, rich soil and sunshine make islands like Kauai ideal for researching and reproducing GMO seed crops. These attributes have attracted corporate ag giants like Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont-Pioneer, Dow and BASF.
But, many of Kauai’s residents oppose GMO’s and the practices of large-scale industrialized farming techniques, which they claim, expose them to various health risks. The opposing factions in this growing political fight are similar to those arrayed against each other elsewhere around the planet when the science of GMO’s butts heads with organic farming enthusiasts and self-styled environmentalists.
On one side you have the growing GMO industry that has proven to have improved major food crops to resist drought, and disease through genetic manipulation. They claim that science will help solve the world’s demand for food and save millions from malnutrition and hunger. Science seems to be on their side, with organizations like American Medical Association, World Health Organization and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency all supporting the safety of GMO’s
On the other hand you have environmental organizations like Greenpeace who reject GMO crops like “golden” rice, in spite of helping millions of malnourished children in the third world, as dangerous and potentially disastrous tampering with nature. This is the sentiment of many of Kauai’s citizens who rallied almost 2,000 people in a major street protest a few weeks ago.
While there is no proof of any specific health risks that is accepted by mainstream science, there is a veritable avalanche of anti-GMO information from national advocates of organic farming like the Ceres Trust. Protestors outside the Kauai County Courthouse left little doubt, by the signs they were toting, they fully believe that GMO are “poisons” that are “killing our land.”
In many ways the arguments against GMO’s are similar to those directed against Hawaii’s past generation of industrialized crops like sugar and pineapple. The Kauai residents, many of whom are new to the Islands, have never lived with any large agricultural neighbors, and have little sympathy for the local agricultural workers who welcome the new jobs and growing economic opportunities.
This battle will now repeat itself on Hawaii’s Big Island as some of its county councilmembers try to pass similar anti-GMO bills of their own in the following weeks.