NOTE: This story was produced for our TV program on Na Leo o Hawaii and uploaded to YouTube in March 2013, but it was only posted to our website in December 2013 as a part of our Best of 2013 series.
HAWAII ISLAND – Hundreds took to the streets on both sides of the Big Island on Saturday, to protest GMO’s – genetically modified organisms. These crowds say they don’t want GMOs to be a part of Hawaii’s agricultural future.
Hawaii Island was the 3rd of 5 islands across the state to host a “March in March to Evict Monsanto”. Monsanto is an American multinational agricultural biotech corporation headquartered in Missouri. It is a leading producer of genetically engineered seed and of Roundup, a well known herbicide.
There was a huge crowd in Hilo. From farmers to state senators, these people were united in their distrust of genetically modified food producers.
And in Kona later that same day, a mob marched down Alii Drive, chanting and shouting against GMO’s. Many of the participants sounded angry over Monsanto’s economic and legal influence.
The series of marches – first held in Haleiwa on Oahu – encourage Hawai`i residents to support and celebrate food sovereignty and investigate land stewardship practices by landowners such as Kamehameha Schools, who is leasing over a thousand acres of land to Monsanto. Rally organizers say Hawai’i is the global research lab of the world for GMO testing, with over 5,000 open-field experiments statewide.
Food sovereignty activist Walter Ritte played a big role in the event. We spoke to him in Kona.
State Senator Russell Rudderman – who is also the owner of the Island Naturals market chain – joined in the event, as did and UH Manoa professor of agriculture Dr. Hector Valenzuela.
Hawaii Island has taken a stand against GMOs before. In 2008, the Hawaii County Council passed bill 361, making it illegal to grow genetically engineered taro and coffee in Hawai’i County. Organic farmers and Hawaiian cultural practitioners rejoiced. But there are those who say genetically modified crops are the key to the future. Some say GMO papaya saved the papaya industry when it was being devastated by ringspot virus. Genetically engineered SunUp and Rainbow cultivars were developed, and passed regulatory testing by the U.S. government. They were released to farmers in 1998. Rainbow papaya recently passed Japanese regulatory testing in 2011 and is currently being exported to Japan.
The most recent protest over GMOs on Hawaii Island came over genetically engineered corn, which is being fed to dairy cows along the Hamakua coast. Its a never ending battle, say these protesters.
Meanwhile, Big Island Video News received the following statement from Alicia Maluafiti, the Executive Director of Hawaii Crop Improvement Association.
She says “Organizers of these anti-GMO and evict Monsanto marches are creating a hostile environment in our communities by using scare tactics and spreading misinformation. It is not pono to rally support for an agenda by repeating myths and exaggerations to our Hawaii communities. It is also unfortunate that misleading and false claims made by these activist groups are often repeated by mainstream media without verification of their accuracy.”
She goes on to list some of those facts. She says, “To date, people have consumed more than 3 trillion servings of foods produced using biotechnology, without one documented case of illness resulting from these foods.”
She also says “Seed farmers keep agricultural land in agricultural use, with plenty of land available for other farmers. Seed farmers own or lease approximately 5 percent of the available prime agricultural land in Hawaii.”
And “GMOs are some of the most extensively tested and federally regulated of all crops, so we actually know more about their safety than many other types of crops, including conventional and organic.”