The GMO Battle in Hawai’i

Over the last decade, Hawaii has become a hub for the development of genetically engineered corn and other crops, but activists opposed to biotech crops have joined with residents who say the GMO farms expose them to toxic dust and pesticides. 

Hawaii has become “ground zero” in the controversy over genetically modified (GMO) crops and pesticides. With the seed crop industry (including conventional as well as GMO crops) reaping $146.3 million a year in sales resulting from its activities in Hawaii, the out-of-state pesticide and GMO firms SyngentaMonsantoDuPont PioneerDow ChemicalBASF, and Bayer CropScience have brought substantial sums of corporate cash into the state’s relatively small political arena.

These “Big 6” pesticide and GMO firms are active on the islands in a big way, making use of the three to four annual growing seasons to develop new GMO seeds more quickly. The development of new GMOs by these pesticide and seed conglomerates goes hand-in-hand with heavy pesticide use in some of the islands’ experimental crop fields.

Kaua’i County — consisting primarily of the island of Kaua’i, known as Hawaii’s “Garden Isle” and home to Waimea Canyon State Park — passed a law in November 2013 that requires disclosure of pesticide use and GMO crops sewn by growers and created buffer zones around schools, parks, medical facilities, and private residences. The law is set to go into effect in August 2014.

Hawaii County banned GMOs altogether in November 2013, and a Maui County initiative to ban GMOs recently obtained enough citizen signatures to be placed on the November 2014 ballot.

Since experiencing these setbacks, the big agricultural firms have retaliated in a big way.

Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, Agrigenetics (doing business as Dow AgroSciences), and BASF have sued Kaua’i to block its law.

Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, and several associated trade groups spent over $50,000 lobbying the state legislature from January through April 2014, as legislators considered bills to override the county laws.

Islanders will vote in a primary election for state legislators, governor, and U.S. Congressmembers August 9. Voters will also make initial choices between candidates for mayor and county council seats on Kaua’i and Maui as well as county council seats on the Big Island.

The big agricultural corporations Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, DuPont, and Bayer, associated trade groups, and their lobbyists and employees contributed over $700,000 to state and county candidates from November 2006 through December 2013, according to a new CMD analysis of Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission data. Initial campaign finance reports for what is shaping up to be an expensive political battle this year are not yet released.

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