By Elena Day
Hawaii has come up on my radar screen lately as several friends have vacationed in those tropical isles this summer. Kauai is nicknamed the “Garden Isle.” Its natural wonders include the Na Pali coast and the 10-mile-long Waimea Canyon, which is also called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Rainfall varies from 50 inches per year in northeastern parts of the island to 20 inches per year on the southwestern side.
Commercial sugar cane was farmed on Kauai beginning in 1835. Today there is only one commercial farm left.
Exploitation of sugar cane workers and of water resources (sugar cane needs a lot of water) may have ceased, but the agricultural chemical companies have moved in. Monsanto, Syngenta, BASF, Dow and Dupont are transforming former sugar cane fields into commercial Genetically Engineered/Genetically Modified Organisms (GE/GMO) seed production facilities and open-air testing grounds for new GE/GMO’s that can be sprayed with even more toxic pesticides to destroy weeds that have become resistant to Roundup’s glyphosate.
The state of Hawaii has approximately 25,000 acres of experimental GE/GMO corn in cultivation for field trials. This is more than any other state in the nation. Acreage dedicated to “Frankenscience” has more than doubled this last decade. Ninety percent of GE/GMO corn seed has been developed and is grown in Hawaii for sale to contracted U.S. farmers.
The island of Kauai, close by to Waimea Town, can claim 12,000 acres, the biggest area of industrial GE/GMO corn seed production and testing in the Hawaiian archipelago. Kauai with its fertile soils and abundant rainfall can guarantee three crops per year. According to the Center for Food Safety, it is in Kauai that four of the five big chemical agricultural companies spray 17 times more pesticides per acre than on any cornfield on the U.S. mainland. This is to determine the resistance of the GE/GMO plants to herbicides that kill all the other plants. In 2012, 18 tons of Restricted Use Pesticides, including paraquat and atrazine (both banned in Europe), were sprayed on Kauai. Restricted Use Pesticides are so named because of their harmfulness. The companies (like the fracking industry) refuse to reveal the recipes for their toxic stews.
The cornfields lie above Waimea Town. The fields are sprayed frequently, often every couple of days. Fallow fields are sprayed so nothing will grow because seed and test crops require “sterility.” The wind often blows downhill into the town, where residents complain of vomiting, headaches and stinging eyes. Local schools have been evacuated twice and students have been sent to the hospital because of pesticide drift. The incidence of birth defects and the numbers of special education students may be higher here, but the AgChem companies can claim no linkage because our own governmental agencies (EPA, et al.) that should prioritize the health of its citizens haven’t initiated any studies.
In spite of protracted local protests, the Hawaii legislature has yet to stand up to the AgChem giants. In fact, the companies continue to operate under a decades-old EPA permit to discharge toxic chemicals in water that had been grandfathered in from sugar cane days when amounts and toxicities were lower. The State of Hawaii asked for a federal exemption so that the companies can avoid modern standards of compliance.
In Kauai, the AgChem companies, whose work force is about 200, do not pay excise taxes as do other agricultural concerns, and until recently were exempted from property taxes.
Although Hawaii’s constitution requires that the state and counties specifically protect communities and their environment, a watered-down ordinance passed by the Kauai council requiring the companies to reveal what, where and when they grow, and what they propose to spray was recently overturned by a federal judge when the AgChem giants sued.
On the Big Island—Hawaii—which to date hosts no GMO corn, the county council passed a law that banned chemical companies from moving in. Again it was struck down in federal court. The ban on GMO taro, a food deemed sacred to native Hawaiians, was allowed to stand.
In Maui County (which includes the islands of Maui and Molokai) citizens passed a initiative that called for a moratorium on GMO farming until a full environmental impact statement was completed. Monsanto and associated AgChem companies spent $7.2 million on a losing campaign against the initiative and lost. It is believed to have been the most expensive campaign in Hawaiian history. Monsanto, et. al., sued and again the federal judge ruled that the initiative was preempted by federal law.
All the above rulings are being appealed.
They can “pave paradise” or they can spray it into a toxic soup. Either way, no more paradise.
DARK Act update:
Keep in mind if the DARK Act (H.R. 1599 or “Deny Americans the Right to Know Act even when 64 other countries have legislated it”) passes the Senate, states will be preempted by federal law regarding the right to identify and label foods containing GMOs. Monsanto and companies are currently trying to find a Democrat to cosponsor the Senate bill. What Virginians can do is call and convince Senators Kaine and Warner to refuse to cosponsor. It’s a long shot as both Virginia Senators voted against states’ rights to label GMO’s in 2013 when the amendment was attached to the farm bill. Eight of the eleven Virginia Representatives voted in favor of H.R. 1599, which they audaciously refer to as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act.