KAPAA — Dozens of people waved signs along Kuhio Highway in Kapaa Saturday, supporting organic farming and condemning genetically engineered food.
The rally was part of the global March Against Monsanto event.
“On Kauai, we’re in solidarity with the world awakening and saying we don’t want to engineer our food and if you want to put this (genetically modified foods) out there, we want to label it,” said Joanna Wheeler, a member of GMO Free Kauai who was at the rally.
Marghee Maupin, a nurse practitioner from Kauai’s Westside, said she attended the rally because she has a personal connection to the effects of pesticides.
“I used to work at the hospital over there on the Westside, where they’re testing between 70 and 90 pesticides every day,” Maupin said. “I got Guillain-Barre syndrome and I had to leave. When you look at the list of causes, the only one that fit with me was the pesticides.”
Maupin said now she splits her time between home health care and raising awareness with groups like GMO Free Kauai.
Wheeler said Maupin isn’t the only person on Kauai who has linked her health problems to pesticide exposure.
“Kauai is called GMO ground zero because they’re testing here and it affects us more than anywhere else,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said she’s also concerned about what kinds of chemicals are being sprayed on Kauai’s Westside where the seed companies are located.
“They’re testing chemicals here on Kauai that are banned in their own countries, where the companies are headquartered,” Wheeler said.
“You can’t use it in your own country, but you can test it here? How can this be?”
The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association and the seed companies on Kauai declined to comment on the rally. But Charla Lord, corporate engagement for Monsanto Company, which does not have a site on Kauai, said genetically engineered crops have actually helped farmers.
“GE cropping systems have helped farmers and agriculture mitigate on-farm challenges presented by pests (weeds and bugs) and have also helped support agriculture practices — such as conservation tillage practices — which have, in turn, provided direct benefit to the environment,” Lord said.
She pointed to Tuesday’s report, released from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that cleared GMO foods from a connection to health problems.
The report, however, hasn’t convinced some who are worried about genetically modified ingredients in their food.
“Look at who pays for the studies,” Wheeler said. “They literally buy science.”
Lord, however, said all companies are required to conduct research and testing before their products reach the market and “the sources of funding for research and testing have no influence on the results.”
Many of the people at Saturday’s Kapaa rally carried signs condemning Monsanto and its fellow agribusiness companies, but a few signs promoted a vision for the future.
“My best-case scenario for Kauai is something that’s sustainable, that protects the aina and something that is good stewardship of the island,” Wheeler said.
Jessica Else, environ- mental reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or jelse@thegardenisland. com.