The Big Island Tells Biotech Companies: We Don’t Want Your GMOs
The Big Island of Hawaii passed a new law, Bill 113, last week that bans biotech companies, as well as all open-air testing and growing of …genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and that can led to fines of $1,000 a day for those who violate it. The Hawaii County Council’s GMO ban occurs just after the Kauai County Council overrode a veto by Bernard P. Carvahlo Jr. and passed a law that requires mandatory disclosure about GMO crops and pesticide spraying by the biotech industry. In Kauai, a massive hospitalization of teachers and children from Waimea Middle School occurred as a result of, many say, pesticide drift from fields belonging to biotech company Syngenta. There’s a significant difference between the two bills, though. While GMOs have been planted on Kauai, the likes of Syngenta, Monsanto, Pioneer, Dow and BASF — all the big-name biotech companies — have not yet set up operations on Hawaii’s Big Island. Bill 113 can effectively keep them from doing so and letting GMOs enter Hawaii.
With its climate and an ecosystem that is suitable for year-round testing and growing seed corn and other crops, the state of Hawaii has long had a huge appeal for biotech companies. Many have been at work experimenting with GMO crops and seeds on Oahu, Kauai and Molokai for years.”The biotechnology industry has all but completely supplanted the sugar cane and pineapple industries that used to dominate the Hawaiian landscape,” Ecowatch comments. At least two farmers’ groups, the Hawaii Farmers Union United, whose focus is on family farms, and the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, have indicated support for Bill 113, citing concerns about cross-pollination between GMO crops and those that are not modified. Other farmers have opposed Bill 113, fearing that that they will not be able to use “future, cutting-edge technologies that could help in their operations,” according to Honolulu Civil Beat.
Papayas and other GMO crops that are already being cultivated are to be grandfathered in under Bill 113, though papaya farmers will have to pay the county $100 a year to register their fields. Most of the 200 papaya plantations on the Big Island are already planted with genetically modified papaya trees. Back in the 1990s, scientists modified papaya DNA so the trees would not be susceptible to the ringspot virus. Farmers who have seen their farms vandalized have expressed concerns that they could be stigmatized due to their crops. Anne Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, has said that her office does not plan to offer an opinion on the Big Island’s proposed ban nor challenge it, should it become law. Indeed, Hawaii adopted a ban on GMO coffee and taro back in 2008; this law has not been legally challenged.
Hawaii Mayor Billy Kenoi, who has yet to indicate his stance about the new law, could still veto it. Even if he does not seek to override the Hawaii County Council’s support for Bill 113, biotech companies are poisted to fight the law. After Kauai’s law passed, an attorney for Syngenta, Paul Alston, told the Honolulu Star Advertiser that his company will almost certainly move forward with a lawsuit and challenge the law’s call for buffer zones between pesticide spraying and public facilities such as schools. The communities of Hawaii and of western Kauai in particular have been rallying to stop the use of GMOs on their lands. As Councilwoman Margaret Wille, who introduced the Hawaii bill, said to Honolulu Civil Beat,
“We are at a juncture. Do we move forward in the direction of the agro-chemical monoculture model of agriculture, or do we move toward eco-friendly, diversified farming? … There is no sacred cow when it comes to how do we protect the future health of the island and the kids.”It is crucial that Mayor Kenoi sign Bill 113 into law to ensure that its agricultural lands remain free from planting with any more GMOs and to keep out biotech companies who are thinking about profits, not people .