Thursday, January 16, 2014

Response to Amy Harmon’s Story in the New York Times: Sunday January 5, 2014

“A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops”

Amy… you spent 7 days on Hawai’i Island and you didn’t get it.  You portrayed us as emotional and reactionary. Our concerns about the consequences of GE crops in our home communities were portrayed as emotional, uneducated and unable to fully comprehend the scientific facts of genetically engineered crops.   Your story implied that we were insensitive to the difficulties facing our papaya farmers, which is inaccurate. We understand fully how hard it is to grow papaya in a tropical environment with little or no soil. We have respect for Councilman Ilagan, but your narrow focus on only his perspective, when you had talked and heard from so many other informed farmers, educators and individuals, gave an intentionally narrow and inaccurate focus on what Bill 113 was truly about and the reasons why Hawai’i Councilwoman Willie felt the need to introduce it.

Hawaii is ground zero for the world for development and testing of experimental GE field trials by most large biotech companies.  It is important to keep in mind that Hawai‘i is the most isolated landmass in in the world. It has an inherently fragile ecosystem and our island communities depend on the ability to continue to grow food, have access to safe and clean water and maintain a healthy reef system and environment for future generations.

The Hawai‘i Revised Statutes, Section 46-1.5(13) states that, “Each County shall have the power to enact ordinances necessary to protect health, life and property.” The Hawai ‘i State Constitution, Article XI Section 9, states,  “Each person has the right to clean and healthful environment.”  It is therefore the responsibility of our County Council to protect the long-term health of the people and the land. This is an important responsibility, as we know that APHIS, USDA, EPA and FDA cannot protect us from the biotech companies that are growing here. We recently learned, with the passing of Kauai’s Bill 2491, that there are no state mandated pesticide free buffer zones around our most sensitive areas; schools, hospitals and parks.  Nor are there any requirements to disclose chemicals used, including restricted-use and permit only chemicals. The Kauai Bill 2491 written by Councilman Gary Hooser and passed creates restrictions, buffer zones, and accountability for the biotech companies.

For the past decades, the soils, ground water and health of Hawaii’s lands and communities have been negatively impacted through industrial-style farming and related contamination of the soils by the pineapple and sugarcane industries. Still persistent today in many of our old sugar cane lands are toxic, health-threatening contaminants such as arsenic, dioxin, atrazine, and in some cases mercury.  Our State Public Health officials have been concerned with residual levels of DBCP, EDB (soil fumigants used by the pineapple industry), and TCP, found in wells and the ground waters on Oahu, Maui, and Kauai. Councilwoman Willies’ Bill 113 on Hawai’i Island was designed to take a pro-active stance to protect our land, water, local communities and the people of Hawai‘i island until more is known and understood about the environmental and health consequences of GE crops and their related chemical use.  

We were hoping Amy, that you would be objective enough to see us for who we really are, we treated you with respect, we took you in, we introduced you to everyone you needed to talk to and what we get in return was a biased and distorted story that does not reflect the depth of the true situation Hawai‘i is facing.

We invite you to come back and visit us again, spend more time here and get to know us in a deeper way, without an agenda.  It is important to understand the struggle we are having at this moment in time to protect our future and report it objectively, and understand the importance of self-reliance in this uniquely, sensitive and isolated location.  As caring citizens, we must be pro-active, heartfelt, watchful and fearlessly outspoken to do what we can to avoid any further impacts from GE industrial agriculture.

GMO Free Hawai‘i Island

As an Addendum:
Our Mayor, Billie Kenoi signed bill 113 on December 5, 2013. He states in his press release after signing this bill; “Our community has a deep connection and respect for our land, and we all understand we must protect our island and preserve our precious natural resources. We are determined to do what is right for the land because this place is unlike any other in the world.  With this new ordinance we are conveying that instead of global agribusiness corporations, we want to encourage and support community-based farming and ranching.” He also stated; “Today our communities expect that government will be cautious as possible in protecting our food and water supplies.  We all want to minimize impacts to the environment while also producing abundant, affordable food for local consumption.  This ordinance expresses the desires and demands of our community for a safe, sustainable agricultural sector that con help feed our people while keeping our precious island productive and healthy”.

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