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On the Front Lines of Hawaii's GMO War, Part Two

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

This is the second and final installment in an in-depth series on resistance to pesticides and GMO farming on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Michael is one of dozens of workers and their allies wearing gray shirts and gathered on November 14 outside of the county building on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. He says he is a "sprayer" for Syngenta, one of the four international biotech and agrichemical companies that develop and produce hybrid and genetically engineered crop seeds on the island. He doesn't want to share his last name, but he will share his views on the ensuing drama over Bill 2491, a piece of local legislation that has become the most divisive controversy that the Garden Island's 67,000 residents have seen in years.

"They're telling us we are poisoning people, and I don't think we are poisoning anybody," Michael says.

Michael and his coworkers are here to tell the Kauai County Council not to override Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho's recent veto of Bill 2491, which the council passed by a 6-1 vote.

The bill specifically targets Syngenta, Dow Agrichemical, Dupont-Pioneer and BASF with new pesticide regulations requiring they publicly disclose the details of pesticide sprays, observe buffer zones around schools and hospitals, and comply with an environmental impact study. The Kauai Coffee Company, which operates a large farm on the island, is included in the bill, but other agricultural operations are exempt.

The five companies are not the only firms using pesticides on Kauai, but they do use 98 percent of the "restricted use" pesticides sprayed on the island. Federal law demands these chemicals only be applied by, or under the supervision of, workers, who, like Michael, have certified training. The seeds produced and developed at the biotech test farms are not considered food products, and some are genetically engineered to tolerate patented pesticide formulas; so the biotech firms can use more chemicals on their experimental development plots than traditional farms. According to the slim amount of data available in state records, the biotech companies purchased a combined total of 5,447 pounds and 4,324 gallons of 22 different restricted-use pesticides to use on the island in 2012 alone.

Some of these restricted-use pesticides, such as atrazine and paraquat, have been linked to health problems. Atrazine is banned in Europe but is the most popular herbicide in the United States, and the Environmental Protection Agency is currently reevaluating the chemical's carcinogenic potential in response to concerns from independent scientists. Others, such as permethrin, are toxic to fish and aquatic life.   


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