Young activist on Kunia Road

Tiffany Hervey

More than 100 protestors, many in face masks and bearing signs that read, “Say No to GMOs,” lined Kunia Road outside Monsanto’s Oahu operation on Thursday, June 28.

The goals, organizers said, are to spread awareness about the potentially toxic practices surrounding cultivation of crops containing genetically modified organisms (GMO), to let the multinational agrochemical company know that these risks are not acceptable in Hawaii, and to urge landowners to replace seed company tenants with local food producers.

Monsanto released their employees early that day and set up a barricade and security station at the entrance to their compound. Several employees filmed the event from company property while Honolulu police on BMW motorcycles lined the road. Manufacturer of the herbicide Roundup and the defoliant Agent Orange, Monsanto has become increasingly controversial for its development of genetically engineered seed and bovine growth hormone, and a recent history of seed patenting and aggressive litigation toward farmers.

Monsanto Hawaii purchased 2,300 acres of prime agriculural land in Kunia from the James Campbell Estate in 2007. Kamehameha Schools states on their website that they lease 1,033 acres to Monsanto on Oahu’s North Shore. Statewide, Monsanto uses about 8,000 acres of agriculturally zoned land. Alan Takemoto, Monsanto Hawaii’s community affairs manager, said via email that the seed industry as a whole utilizes approximately 14-15,000 acres throughout Hawaii.

“Monsanto produces nothing we can eat,” says activist Walter Ritte. “We have to stop calling them farmers.” Ritte’s goal, he says, is to get GMO labeling laws adopted and enforced in Hawaii. “Labeling is symbolic of the whole basis of our democratic system,” he said. “We choose who we vote for, they say what they stand for and label themselves. We have to be able to do that with our food.”

In an interview prior to the protest, Monsanto Hawaii VP Fred Perlak argued that while the company’s agricultural land in Hawaii is not producing food, the seed research done here benefits residents. “The ethanol in the gas in your car probably came from corn varieties grown by us,” he explained. “Do we directly produce food here in Hawaii? No. [But] when you have beef or chicken, that animal was probably fed corn and because the corn is more affordable, that reduces the price of food overall. We do increase the availability and security of food around the world because of the research we do here in Hawaii,” Perlak said. James W. Macey, one of the protest organizers, contends, “We need real food in Hawaii and food security–not chemical poisons and seeds shipped out.”

Label It Hawaii, GMO-Free Oahu, GMO Justice Hawaii and others plan more biotech protests this summer. Next: July 12, 3-5pm, at Syngenta on Kunia Road.