Reclaiming the future of food and farming

Seeds of hope in Kaua'i

Paul Towers's picture

“We are a united Kaua’i.” That’s what over 4,000 Hawaiians chanted as they marched across the Garden Island last week in the sweltering sun. The broad Pass the Bill coalition of physicians, teachers, hotel workers and farmers has continued to press for greater information around pesticide use. The issue is being hotly debated before the Kaua’i County Council, and the world’s largest pesticide-seed corporations are clearly not happy about it.

Despite repeated statements about the desire for compromise and unity, this handful of pesticide corporations and their front groups (e.g. the misleadingly named “Save Kauai Farms”) have rejected any proposals that meet community concerns. They’ve refused to provide information about the pesticides they use on the island's test fields, or to consider no-spray zones around sensitive locations like schools.

From Hilo to Hanalei, and everything in between, we’re all in this together.

As organizers described it to me, last week's "Mana March" was a culmination of community-wide frustration about lack of corporate accountability. And it was a declaration of widespread commitment to safe and healthy agriculture on the island — agriculture that puts food and families first. “From Hilo to Hanalei, and everything in between, we’re all in this together,” said marcher Guy Hanohano Naehu. 

And the march wasn’t the week’s only activity. In a marathon hearing the following day, the Kaua’i County Council delved into the details of Bill 2491, legislation that would promote greater disclosure around pesticide use on the island. It wasn’t the first 12-hour-long hearing, and may not be the last; people across the island are deeply committed to passing this bill and ensuring community interests are being fully considered by the council.

Pesticidemakers dig in

In a related hearing last month — where I testified — lawyers for pesticide/GE seed corporations were heavy on threats of litigation. They challenged Kauai’s sovereignty, including the ability to pass any piece of the proposed legislation (Bill 2491).

But last week, when pressed at the hearing about the willingness to disclose pesticide use information, basic disclosure on growing or testing genetically engineered (GE) crops on the island, or to consider small no-spray zones near sensitive places, the panel of pesticidemakers was largely silent.

Councilmember Gary Hoosier spent time pressing leaders from companies including Dow, Dupont-Pioneer and Syngenta about what policies they might support. When corporate representatives refused to support any part of the bill, or provide information to help craft one they might stand behind, Hoosier posed another question: “How do you have a community conversation without the facts?”

Corporate power grab

The corporations represented at the Kaua'i County Council hearing are among the handful — just six, in fact — that control a majority of the world's pesticide and seed market. And according to new data released by Michigan State professor Philip Howard, the marketshare dominated by the "Big 6" is only growing.

Dr. Howard's work, based on research by the ETC Group, shows that Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow, Bayer and BASF now control 75% of private sector plant breeding research, 60% of the commercial seed market, and 76% of global pesticide sales. This consolidation is staggering, and the Big 6 are clearly aiming to maintain tight control of these markets.

And while Kaua'i, among other Hawaiian islands, has become a global epicenter for many of the Big 6 to test their new pesticide and GE products, concerned locals are pushing back — and gaining ground.

The Kaua'i County Council will vote on Bill 2491 later this month, hopefully moving closer to passing legislation that supports healthy communities and resilient, sustainable food and farming on the island.

p.s. The documentary "Seeds of Hope” will air this evening on PBS Hawaii. If you have the opportunity, take a look! The film focuses on traditional Hawaiian agriculture and the solutions to the state’s growing food insecurity. Spoiler alert: a farming system controlled by the Big 6 pesticide/biotech corporations isn’t one of them.

Photo credit: Pass Kauai Bill 2491

Paul Towers
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Syman's picture
Syman /
<p>There is a simple permanent solution to the pesticide testing on Kauai.&nbsp; Change the zoning laws to outlaw the commercial testing of pesticides on the entire Island.&nbsp; Pesticides are toxic substances and as such, can be banned under the zoning laws as a class of substances whose use are forbidden on Kauai.&nbsp; These laws can be fashioned specifically to forbid testing any chemicals on the Island.&nbsp; The other Hawaiian Islands can also change their zoning laws to reflect these toxic substances restrictions.</p> <p>Certain pesticides that have long been used by Hawaiian agriculture and have a known history of safe use in Hawaii can be specifically exempted.&nbsp; This would allow existing, legitimate agricultural enterprises in Hawaii to continue to go about their business, while explicitly forbidding the use of chemical testing on the Island(s).</p> <p>Another way to accomplish the restriction on the testing of pesticides on the Island using the zoning laws, is to specifically forbid certain types of companies, as a class, such as a pig farm, (companies who do GMO research or who sell GMO products) from doing business or having a business presence of any kind on the Island of Kauai.</p>
ballyhale's picture
ballyhale /
<p>I am an independent organic grower in NY State. I have opportunity to visit Hawaii annually,my children &amp;grandchildren live there. The warnings of the big six purchasing and leasing the agricultural mountaintops of the Hawaiian Islands for research and development of GMO crops was well documented in the weekly newspaper,I followed the copy. The few organic and sustainable growers such as, Uncle Brian from&nbsp;Ma'O farms on Oahu tried to explain the severity of the actions of the politicians and land holders allowing Monsanto etal. to chemically farm &nbsp;and pollute in the name of progress.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;The people marching hand in hand today to save the Islands from irreversible damage paid no heed when they had a chance to stop this disaster before it began</p>
Paul Towers's picture

Paul Towers is PAN's Organizing and Media Director. He is the primary liaison with press and supports campaigns to protect bees, children’s health and challenge corporate control in the food system. He serves on the steering committee of Californians for Pesticide Reform, a statewide coalition that supports policy change for safer food and farming. Follow @PaulAtPAN