Anti-GMO activists declared victory last December when mayor Billy Kenoi signed the bill that banned biotech companies from operating on Big Island. The ban also prohibited farmers from raising new GMO crops on Big Island. But newly-proposed House Bill 2506, if passed, will overturn the ban on the grounds that it infringes on the rights of farmers to “employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production, and ranching practices.”
The GMO debate is far from simplistic. Recently, high-profile influencers like Bill Gates have come forward defending the merits of researching and raising GMO crops, particularly in developing countries. That disease-resistant, more abundant crops could reduce world hunger is an appealing, even critical point. On the other hand, GMOs are already banned in numerous countries, including Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Japan, and New Zealand; the EU requires labeling of all GMO products. In striking contrast, there is no political feasibility that the mandatory labeling of GMOs would be approved in the U.S. in near future.
Meanwhile, the fight over GMOs in Hawaii is not just over the question of whether GMOs are harmful for human consumption, but the impact of biotech companies and of “agricultural technology, modern livestock production, and ranching practices” as the Bill 2506 itself states. Hawaiian residents didn’t just turn into irrational hippies overnight from reading too much left-wing propaganda: their protest rose against years of pesticide use by GMO companies that impacted local communities. Honolulu Civil Beat reported on damages near the GMO fields:
The local evidence of harm remains anecdotal. One teacher at Waimea Canyon Middle School reported that many of his fish mysteriously died one year and those that survived, in a larger tank, later gave birth to offspring with gruesome deformities.
That school has been closed twice, in 2006 and 2008, due to health concerns about what were believed to be chemical oversprays. In two incidents, the school reportedly sent a total of more than 20 kids to the emergency room after students and staff complained of dizziness, nausea and trouble breathing. Some students vomited profusely, according to past reports.
A state investigation has not been able to determine the exact cause.
Note here that the residents’ concern was not about eating GMOs, but the rampant use of chemical pesticides in raising GMOs. Yet, the supporters of GMO farming like to depict it as similar to organic farming, where the disease- and weed-resistant varieties (or shall we say, species) are raised without pesticides or herbicides. The reality–as Hawaiian residents can attest–is that GMO farming is far from environmentally sustainable or safe.
In Bill 2506’s wording, we see another PR tactic: “modern livestock production” calls to mind gleaming white, clean, spacious factories, more like a medical spa than a slaughterhouse. But modern here is just a buzzword used to spin the brutal, inhumane reality of factory farming. There is nothing truly modern about the way we raise animals today, except that it is happening presently as opposed to in the past. Insisting on cleaner earth, less pesticides, and humane practices does not make activists antiquated, anti-modern, or irrational. The truly modern solution to these problems would be to put the health of the planet, the people, and the animals before profit and scalability–indeed, that’s a novel idea.
Photo: NASS Hawaii Field Office