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Hawaii has not only become the testing ground for the seed industry but a battleground between biotech companies and concerned residents.
The year-round growing season and consistent weather create an ideal setting for farming in Hawaii. For many years, monoculture crops such as sugar and pineapple dominated Hawaii’s agricultural landscape. Today though, seed crops represent the largest agriculture sector generating $243 million in revenue in 2011. With that also comes heavy pesticide spraying.
In July of 2013, Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser introduced bill 2491 requiring large farms and agriculture companies to disclose pesticide usage and location of their genetically engineered crops. After protests and hours of public testimony, the bill passed in November 2013 with the Kauai County Council overriding a Mayoral veto.
The battle over GMO’s isn’t limited to Kauai. Hawaii Island has banned new genetically engineered crops from being grown on the big island. In Maui organizers put an initiative on the November 2014 ballot to ban GMOs until the industry conducts an environmental impact study. In the state’s last legislative session over 30 GMO and pesticide related bills were introduced.
But the biotech industry is fighting back, tooth and nail.
State Senator Clarence Nishihara, who has received more than $13,000 in campaign contributions from biotech companies since 2006 introduced an amendment to Hawaii’s Right to Farm Act. The bill read “ensure that counties cannot enact laws, ordinances, or resolutions to limit the rights of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices.” If it had passed it would have shut down all of the local initiatives pushing for GMO and pesticide usage regulations happening across the state.
In Maui Monsanto employees held a rally.
Syngenta, along with Pioneer and Agrigenetics filed a suit against Kauai County to prevent the new regulations from taking effect. Among other accusations the seed companies claim the new law violates its state and federal constitutional rights.
Marcia Ishii-Eiteman with Pesticide Action Network says the “writing is on the wall for the industry.”
“This is a national movement occurring and don’t think it’s not coming to you,” says Hawaii Attorney General David Louie.
The National Conference of State Legislatures lists 46 GMO and pesticide related bills pending in 15 different states. The intensifying battles in Hawaii could be a sign of things to come.
You can typically find Making Contact producer Laura Flynn equipped with her camera, recorder, and notebook. A self-proclaimed radio and public policy nerd making her way as a public interest journalist. Laura uses the art of storytelling and policy analysis to make engaging stories for radio. In 2013 Laura was a New America Media Energy Fellow and a KALW Audio Academy Fellow. Since 2010 she has produced radio stories covering topics ranging from energy to education. You can find her stories at New America Media, KALW (San Francisco), KUSP (Santa Cruz), and on her website Pedestrian Adventures. Follow her on Twitter @msmightyflynn.
Making Contact, is an award-winning, 29-minute weekly magazine-style public affairs program heard on 140 radio stations in the USA, Canada, South Africa and Ireland.
Making Contact is committed to in-depth critical analysis that goes beyond the breaking news. Showcasing voices and perspectives rarely heard in mainstream media, Making Contact focuses on the human realities of politics and the connections between local and global events, emphasizing positive and creative ways to solve problems.