Seeds of Hope
Though Kauai residents flocked to hear the words of anti-GMO activists Dr. Vandana Shiva, Andrew Kimbrell and Walter Ritte, it remains to be seen whether their enthusiasm can be galvanized into effective political action.
The Jan. 17 program, sponsored by Hawaii SEED, drew a lively crowd of about 1,600–an even larger turnout than protests against the Superferry. In addition to the lectures, people came to participate in a seed exchange and hear Makana perform.
The speakers made it clear that the purpose of their visit was to build support for anti-GMO and Hawaiian sovereignty initiatives. Shiva challenged the crowd to kick out Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer and the other chemical companies that test and cultivate genetically engineered (GE) seed crops on Kauai.
“The abuse of this island has to stop. You can’t win the GMO fight without reclaiming the land,” Shiva told a cheering crowd.
Ritte, a longtime Hawaiian rights activist, noted that while Kauai was taking the lead on the statewide GMO issue, “just talking about it is not enough. [P]oliticians have declared war on the environment. It’s going to be your job to influence the state Capitol.”
Ritte also drew parallels between the “destructive” GE seed cultivation under way on Kauai and his home island of Molokai. He said the GMO issue is directly linked to Hawaiian independence because, “if we do not learn how to be independent and feed ourselves, we will never be sovereign. Never.”
Andrew Kimbrell, an attorney who has successfully challenged GE crops in U.S. courts, drew thunderous applause when he said, “It’s not a matter of if we’re going to have labeling, it’s a matter of when. And this state will be the first.”
The Hawaii Crop Improvement Assn. (HCIA), which represents the biotech industry, responded with a press release urging citizens and lawmakers to “challenge unsubstantiated claims and scrutinize the narrow agendas of those who purport to speak on behalf of the broader public.”
TheGarden Island newspaper published a guest commentary by Alicia Maluafiti, former executive director of the HCIA and a registered lobbyist, defending GMOs and attacking Shiva. Her affiliation was not disclosed.
State lawmakers have introduced several bills related to GE labeling. The most far-reaching is Senate Bill 468, which requires any food or raw agricultural commodity sold in the state to be labeled if it contains or was produced with GE material. It has been referred to two Senate committees. The House is considering a similar measure, HB 174. Two other proposals, HB 627 and HB 631, allow GE-free food to be labeled as such.