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Big 6 undermine Hawaii's 'right to know'

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Paul Towers
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This month, the pesticide industry has been showing its muscle in Hawaii. The “Big 6”  seed and pesticide corporations — and their front groups — have undermined two public efforts to provide better information about pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) seeds and foods.

Industry successfully undermined two GE-related bills in the state legislature. One requires labeling of genetically engineered foods. The other requires pesticide applicators to keep track of and report use of hazardous pesticides, providing valuable data on how much GE crops are driving up the use of pesticides. But both are now much weaker than they started out.

Through extensive lobbying and public relations, DuPont, Monsanto and the so-called Hawaii Crop Improvement Association (an arm of CropLife) convinced legislators to amend the bills so that it would be decades before people would get information on pesticide use. And labeling would be limited to GE crops from other places.

The weaker bills are being taken up in additional House committees later this week before they move on to the Senate for consideration.

Island business

The Big 6 are fighting for more control of the islands' land to continue growing GE crops. Last year, I witnessed first-hand the proliferation of GE seed operations on the west side of Kauai. And as my colleague Marcia Ishii-Eiteman has often pointed out, the "dirty little secret"of genetically engineered crops is that they are the growth engine of the pesticide industry, driving up market share.

James Trujillo, chair of the Kauai Beekeepers Association stated this succinctly in his testimony before one of the state legislature’s committees: “As beekeepers we are concerned about the myriad of pesticides being used in so many places.”

But residents of the Aloha State aren’t backing down, and many of the island’s residents are actively promoting a sustainable food system. They're also pushing to know what's in their food and how it's grown.

Seeds of power

Hawaii's movement to counter the increasing influence of pesticide and GE seed corporations is growing, and is well integrated with the deep local cultural history of protecting food, land and water. Last month, Hawaii SEED led an island tour with acclaimed community and international leaders like Nancy Redfeather and Vandana Shiva. Thousands of people came to hear their stories and call to action.

Along the tour, Walter Ritte, a community leader from the island of Moloka’i made his case:

We fiercely protect the environment because that’s how we feed our family. The skills that allow us to harvest these resources and feed our families are traditional skills. Monsanto is the No. 1 problem we have right now.

So while industry was able to undermine legislative efforts this month, it’s only a matter of time before Hawaiians prevail. Communities will continue to expose the GE-pesticide connection and promote sustainable food systems on the islands.

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