At the 200-person meeting featuring Walter Ritte at the Pa'ia Community Center on Wednesday, Dec. 4, the SHAKA Movement (Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the 'Aina) and GMO-Free Maui proved they are here to stay. What began as small, grassroots activism, has now blossomed into a well organized movement to protect public health and agricultural lands all over the islands.
The liveliness apparent in Hawaiian activists Walter and Mercy Ritte and many of the organizers was refreshing. We can consider ourselves privileged to live in a place where serious disagreement can be carried out with such a profound sense of aloha. Theirs is a strong and purposeful love that seeks to set things right.
The meeting was unusually quiet and focused, punctuated by standing ovations. The recent laws passed by Kaua'i and Hawai'i Island to protect their islands raised everybody's expectation that Maui will take the next step.
Mercy's short speech was as heartwarming as it was alarming. Her transformation from a busy mom to a 29-year-old community leader was sparked by a serious cough that sent her 2-year-old to the emergency room. She found that it was caused by inhaling pesticide-laden dust from Monsanto's Molokai operation.
Walter informed the audience that the Hawai'i movement against GMOs and pesticides, now many years old, spans all islands and is carried out by local people who have suffered from acute poisonings of their bodies and land. He still hears Queen Liliuokalani's hopeful words, that the good and democratic people of the United States will one day set things right with the Hawaiian people.
The problems in Molokai derive from the very reason that chemical companies have their seed operations in Hawai'i. As the climate here allows them to grow experimental corn three seasons a year, most of the fields are barren and the wind blows the dust. Because most tests are about finding corn varieties that are resistant to new, experimental weedkillers, the fields are sprayed much more often and with heavier poisons than in production agriculture. These poisons then drift with the dust into neighborhoods, the drinking water reservoir, other fields and the reef. Within years, this is destroying the possibility for subsistence agriculture. Ritte calls it genocide, when the fish are gone and the land is poisoned.
No love was lost on politicians. Mayor Arakawa's MOU with Monsanto (for a voluntary disclosure of pesticide use) was seen as ineffective. State Sen. Roz Baker's efforts to derail the GMO labeling bill will come back to haunt her. A Hawaiian fisherman, well in his 80s, complained that the DLNR goes after him for fishing, but not after the big polluters.
Most surprising is a new clarity of the anti-GMO movement's arguments and an embracing of a science-based approach in criticizing GMO operations. The extreme heavy use of experimental pesticides, and especially the mixing of these chemicals is analyzed. Horizontal gene transfer between different species is recognized as an unknown danger.
Government regulators should exercise the precautionary principle and demand proof of safety.
SHAKA discovered that they are required to do so by the Public Trust Doctrine in the Hawai'i Constitution. A great deal of documentation can be found at shakamovement.org.
While there is a great need to further develop agriculture and increase production for a growing, hungry world population, this meeting pointed out why going GMO might just be the wrong direction.