Letters for Tuesday, April 10, 2012

GMO and Kaua‘i Mahalo

GMO and Kaua‘i

Some people do not know what GMO agriculture is, and some think it is like traditional breeding, developing hybrids. However, it is entirely different. GMO stands for genetically modified organism. A GMO has had its genes altered in the laboratory by scientists who take genes from one species and insert them into another entirely different species (using bacteria, viruses, and antibiotics) in order to produce a particular characteristic or trait.

 It is putting DNA from any organism into any other organism such as human DNA into plants, jellyfish DNA into pigs, spider DNA into goats or fish DNA into strawberries. This creates an entirely new life form, a genetic creation producing mutations never seen before. GMO plants have not been adequately studied for their safety for human consumption or for their long range effect on the environment or human health. Most of the studies are done by the companies doing the genetic engineering (which is like the mongoose guarding the birds’ nests).

The U.S. government does not regulate GMO farming and does not even require labeling of GMO food. The FDA decided almost 20 years ago that the genetic engineered (GE) food does not need to be labeled because (using the criteria of taste, smell, and other senses) it is not materially different from other foods.

 However, the companies creating the manmade genetic modifications have been able to get patents for their seeds using the argument that they are different. Also, there is corporate control of the seeds, thus forcing farmers to buy both their seeds and chemicals from the corporations.

Unfortunately, as it is, GMO is already in our food — 88 percent of corn, 91 percent of soybeans, 88 percent of cotton and 95 percent of sugar beets. Some estimate that 70 percent of our processed foods contain some GMO ingredients.  Some polls show that 50 percent of the population would not eat GMO food if they knew what it was. Ninety percent think GMO should be labeled, so people can make the choice of whether on not they want to consume it. GMO is banned by the European Union and many other countries such as Australia, Russia and China. In the U.S., because of the multinational chemical companies’ intense lobbying, it is not even labeled.  

Unwitting consumption of genetically engineered food is one concern regarding GMO. Another major concern is the increasing use of herbicides and pesticides on GMO crops.

Some residents of Waimea  have filed a lawsuit against Pioneer Hi-Bred (DuPont) because pesticide-laden fugitive dust blows into their homes and has daily for 10 years.

Open field spraying of pesticides near homes and schools make them guinea pigs in experimental GE farming. Professor Hector Valenzuela of the University of Hawai‘i states in his draft report on the “Environmental and Health Risks of Synthetic Chemicals used by the Biotechnology Seed Industry in Hawai‘i” that crops are sprayed seven out of every 10 days. That is a lot of pesticide exposure.  

Pesticides and herbicides are generally thought to pose danger to humans in terms of diseases like cancer and neurological problems, as well as reproductive issues. Pesticides and herbicides are generally understood to be harmful to the environment as they wash from the soil into rivers, streams and the ocean.  Here on Kaua‘i we have massive sea urchin die off, (which in the Caribbean has led to reef death), which may be due to agricultural runoff from the seed industry.  GMO plants have also been associated with the die off of pollinating insects. Pollinating insects are crucial to any kind food supply.

Finally, there is the problem of cross-contamination of GMO to conventional, traditional, and organic farming. If GMO patented crops drift onto non-GMO farms, these farmers can, and have been, sued by Monsanto for patent infringement.  

There is much talk on Kaua‘i about sustainability with the focus on both energy and agriculture. Organic farms are plentiful. KCC teaches about sustainability and organic farming. Gourmet and regular farmers markets are popular and thriving.  Fine food dining is expanding. But what is the relationship of all these developments to GMO seed production? All five multinational chemical corporations, whose bottom line is seed production and chemical sales, operate freely on our island. What of cross-contamination, environmental damage and human health concerns?

We need to label GMO. We need to regulate pesticide and herbicide use and to enforce the regulations. We need transparency and facts from the GMO companies.  

We need to plan for a healthy future or our island may become a wasteland of toxic soil, depleted topsoil, polluted rivers and streams, dying coral reefs and an increasingly ill population.

The mayor and council members need to study the situation and think of the long-range big picture. All residents need to become informed. Go online, learn more. Contact the decision makers regarding your concerns.  


Sara DeZerega, Koloa


Thank you, O’Brian Eselu, the Brudda passed, but we remember your beauty and talent at our island school and sharing and teaching at EKK.  

What a talent and so real. We miss you and honor your time with us.

Thank you for touching our souls, and we remember yours.

Jackie Lott, Kalaheo


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