Island by island, our most tropical state is slowly advancing towards being GMO-free. A recently launched petition on the island of Maui would temporarily suspend the production of genetically modified crops on that island. If passed, Maui would join the islands of Kauai and Hawaii in regulating the production and sale of crops largely seen as both dangerous and destructive.
The ballot initiative needs to receive 8,500 signatures before it is approved to go before voters in November. If it makes it, the initiative would stop all production of GMO crops on the island and the spraying of related pesticides until companies like Monsanto could unequivocally prove their products were safe.
The signatures are due by March 31, and the five Maui citizens behind the petition think it’s not only possible, but likely that they’ll make the deadline.
“The Agro-chemical companies have effectively turned Hawaii into their own outdoor laboratory, which they operate with impunity.” Mark Sheehan said in a press release. “On Kauai, for example, a documented correlation has been made between rising levels of pesticide application and rising incidences of birth defects. That throws the safety of the entire GE operation into question, which brings the ‘Precautionary Principle’ to bear.”
With their year-round growing season, these giant corporations have literally put down roots on the Hawaiian islands, spreading their seeds across the warm and lush islands. Without the proper testing and precautions, they are essentially making it up as they go along, and any problems (like GMO contamination on non-GMO fields and pesticide run-off showing up in the drinking water) won’t be dealt with until it’s too late.
“The citizens of Maui County have serious concerns as to whether the GE seed operations, open-field mixing of pesticide cocktails, and GE crop experimentation occurring in Maui County are causing irreparable harm to the people, the environment, and public trust resources,” said Sheehan.
The burden would be on Monsanto to prove their products are safe, something they have had a hard time convincing the people of thus far. Largely, because there is evidence to the contrary.
For their part, companies like Monsanto and Syngenta are already challenging laws in Kauai and Hawaii for limiting their market.
In Kauai, a bill was passed in 2013 that not only requires biotech companies to report what pesticides they are spraying, but where and in what concentrations. It also requires they create “buffer zones” between fields treated with pesticides and neighboring communities. Failure to do these things could result in the employees of these companies being arrested.
In Hawaii, Mayor Billy Kenoi recently signed a bill that bans GMOs from the island. While the bill exempts the booming GMO papaya industry there, activists call it a success.
As a state, lawmakers are considering a GMO-labeling bill as well. It’s only one of several GMO-related state laws that are being considered in the island state. Lawmakers, voters, and activists in Hawaii are not backing down, despite the hard work ahead. And their progress thus far can be seen as inspiration for progressive change at the county and state levels alike.