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Organic Consumers Association

Unease in Hawaii's Cornfields

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Hawaii News page.

WAIMEA, Hawaii - The balmy tropical isles here seem worlds apart from the expansive cornfields of the Midwest, but Hawaii has become the latest battleground in the fight over genetically modified crops.

The state has become a hub for the development of genetically engineered corn and other crops that are sold to farmers around the globe. Monsanto and other seed companies have moved here en masse, and corn now sprouts on thousands of acres where sugar cane or pineapples once grew.

But activists opposed to biotech crops have joined with residents who say the corn farms expose them to dust and pesticides, and they are trying to drive the companies away, or at least rein them in.

The companies counter that their operations are safe and that the industry is essential to Hawaii's economy.

In the last two weeks, legislative committees on the islands of Kauai and Hawaii have approved proposed ordinances that would restrict the ability of the seed companies to operate. The Kauai bill will go before the full County Council on Tuesday.

"It's a paradise over here that is being ruined by this," said Michiyo Altomare, who lives in this small town on Kauai that is just across a narrow river from a bluff upon which the seed company Pioneer grows corn.

Ms. Altomare and her husband, Corrado, built their dream house here 30 years ago, hoping to enjoy the winds that waft down from the bluff. But when sugar cane gave way to corn, she said, those winds began carrying fine red soil that coated her counters, forcing the family to shut their windows and install central air-conditioning.

On some occasions, Ms. Altomare smelled pesticides and called the police. Mr. Altomare suffers from high platelet levels that his doctor said could have resulted from chemical exposure. The couple's grown children, she said, "don't want to live here."

The seed companies say the pesticides and genetically engineered crops are already well regulated by the federal and state governments. They say curtailment of the Hawaii operations would disrupt agriculture for the nation.       


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