To many, Hawai’i is a veritable paradise on earth. But trouble has been brewing as the Big 6 pesticide and biotech companies have begun staking their claim on the islands.
“Pesticide corporations and their seed companies are consuming Kauai’s resources — especially land and water — at dramatic rates,” reports PAN staff member Paul Towers. Last week, Towers toured the island of Kauai with members of Hawai’i SEED to learn first-hand about the community group's efforts to challenge Monsanto & Co. head on, and to advance their alternative vision of healthy farming systems.
At least five of the Big 6 — BASF, Dow, Dupont, Monsanto and Syngenta — have some presence on the island. Their experimental corn rows cover the western side of Kauai, with fields abutting homes and schools. This proximity to residents has spurred Hawaiians to question and challenge the surge in genetically engineered (GE) corn grown on the island, and the pesticides that are required to grow it.
Jeri DiPetro, coordinator of Hawai’i SEED, explains their concerns:
The practices of the Big 6 corporations are incompatible with the traditional views of Aina, or earth, and Ohana, or family. We have an obligation to our islands to grow food with respect for, and in a way that ensures the long-term health of both the land and people.
A review of one corporation’s records for the past month found numerous pesticide applications on the GE corn trials, including chemicals like atrazine and chlorpyrifos. Atrazine, now found in 94% of US water, is an endocrine disruptor, while chlorpyrifos is a potent neurotoxin prone to drift that has been linked to learning disabilities in children.
“These companies are drawing the island onto the pesticide treadmill, as they test and grow corn seeds that are genetically engineered to withstand more use of hazardous pesticides,” says Towers. “These seeds will then be sold to farmers across the globe.”
Taking the pesticidemakers to court
The Big 6 are inserting themselves into an agricultural system that has in recent decades been built around plantation-style farming, growing GE seeds in the place of sugar cane and pineapples. Unfortunately, this industrial agriculture model has left local communities with contaminated land and water, and without access to land for farming traditional crops like taro.
For many years, residents felt powerless to take on the Big 6. But in 2011, over 150 residents of the small community of Waimea filed suit against Pioneer and its parent company DuPont.
Living downwind and below the company’s experimental corn fields, the community has been covered in a mixture of pesticide dust for the past several years. Gerry Jervis, a Honolulu-based attorney for the residents had this to say about the case:
The community is covered. [DuPont] plows all the time . . . [Residents] are living in lock down, unable to open their doors or windows.
Recently deceased State Representative Samuel Sang Hoy Lee, from the neighboring island of Oahu, led the fight for many years to clean up pollution around pineapple plantations from pesticidemaker Dow. During the 1980s he described the “secret weapon” residents brought to the battle as they fought to get dangerous chemicals out of water: Ohana spirit.
As journalist Mike McGrath notes in his profile of Lee, to Hawaiians Ohana means family in the broadest sense — the extended family, the clan, the community. Lee said the water crisis had “infused the town with the Ohana spirit — a sense of the whole community pulling together.” His words continue to resonate today, as courageous and dedicated Hawaiians stand up to challenge giant pesticide and biotech corporations wreaking havoc on their communities.