Maui: way too great to ravage with GMOs and associated agrochemicals. Photo: Randy Robertson via Flickr.
Victory! Outspent 87-1, Maui voters back GMO moratorium
7th November 2014
A voter initiative in Maui, Hawaii requires a suspension of GMO crops pending a safety review to be paid for by Monsanto and other corporations - although corporations spent almost $8 million trying to defeat the measure. Monsanto is now preparing a legal challenge.
This is not a farming ban. This is a demand for assurance of safety in our daily lives. Maui is not the private laboratory of Monsanto. We will not sacrifice our health and safety to protect the profits of mainland corporations.
Hawaii voters in Maui County made history this week by backing a ballot initiative to prohibit the growth, testing or cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops in Maui until an environmental and public health study can show that they are safe.
Voters backed the measure by 23,082 to 22,005 - in the face of massive spending by agrochemical companies.
The opposition 'Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban' - almost exclusively backed by Monsanto and Dow Chemical to defeat the initiative - raised $7,970,686.12 million for its campaign.
Thar's an amazing $362.22 per vote earned, or $174.43 per total vote cast - 87 times more than ban supporters - leading the Center for Public Integrity to dub it "the most expensive local initiative in the country".
"Our victory today sends a strong message to the agrochemical industry in Hawai'i", said Ashley Lukens, program director at Hawaii Center for Food Safety. "Community members will not sit idly by and watch these companies threaten the health and safety of our people and our planet.
"Voters saw past the misleading claims of pesticide companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemical and demanded accountability to the community."
Monsanto uses Hawaii as 'outdoor lab' for GMOs and pesticides
Hawaii is used as an outdoor laboratory for companies like Monsanto to test genetically engineered crops and their related pesticides. In 2013 alone there were 1,124 field test sites; California only hosted 184 sites.
Most of these crops are engineered to resist herbicides and pesticides. Testing these crops means repeated spraying of dangerous chemicals near neighborhoods, schools, and waterways.
The initiative passed today suspends all GE operations in the county pending a safety impact review, requiring agrochemical companies to provide funding and data to the county who would complete a health and environmental impact assessment before allowing operations to continue. Violators can be fined $50,000 per offense.
Rather than growing food for local consumption, these operations are researching and developing corn and soy varieties that have been genetically engineered to resist greater applications of their signature pesticides, posing numerous potential health threats to the neighboring communities.
Opponents played on claimed detrimental effects on the economy. According to one TV ad, "This initiative truly has zero aloha. It's not just GMO. It's the mom-and-pop store. It's the coffee shop down the road.
"I don't know how people will pay their mortgages. I don't know how people will pay their bills. I don't know how people will get their medical or send their kids to school or provide clothing for them. This will affect our economy. This will affect our future. "
'We have a right to know'
But a clear majority of voters saw through the 'no' campaign tactics, said Lukens. "The moratorium will impact only 1 percent of the county's agricultural operations, but Monsanto and Dow Chemical spent millions trying to keep residents from understanding the impacts their activities have on the community.
"This is not a farming ban. This is a demand for assurance of safety in our daily lives. Maui is not the private laboratory of Monsanto. We will not sacrifice our health and safety to protect the profits of mainland corporations.
"We don't know the long term effects of these experiments on our people or environment. Data from similar operations on Kauai reveals record-breaking use of chemicals with known impacts on the development of young children. We have a right to know if we are being hurt by these experimental operations."
Monsanto: 'legally flawed and cannot be enforced'
John Purcell, vice president of Monsanto Hawaii, said the company would challenge the ban in the courts. "To protect our employees and farms, and in support of thousands of local residents who opposed this initiative, Monsanto plans to file a lawsuit challenging the legality of this harmful ban."
He added that the initiative is "legally flawed and cannot be enforced", and "invalid and contrary to long established state and federal laws that support both the safety and lawful testing and planting of GMO plants" - raising the question of why Monsanto spent so much money opposing it.
Monsanto is "confident in the safety of our products and our practices that have been reviewed and approved by federal and state agencies", Purcell insisted, while "the referendum will have significant negative consequences for the local economy, Hawaii agriculture and our business on the island."
Similar legislation on Kauaʻi Island was ruled invalid by a federal judge earlier this year, blocking the county from regulating the use of pesticides and commercial GMO crops. However the federal judge's decision is now under appeal.
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