When you think of Hawai’i, do images of lush greenery and blue ocean fill your head? Well, here’s another image for your mind: pesticides and GMOs in Hawai’i. And lots of them. In particular, the island of Kaua’i is full of pesticides and the world’s largest open-air field tests for experimental genetically modified organisms. But residents are trying their best to stop the biotech companies from creating any further damage by attempting to amend a local ordinance.
Organic Authority first reported on pesticide use and GMOs in Hawai’i two years ago after our editor Jill Ettinger visited the GMO testing sites in Kaua’i. GMO companies are using these sites to grow experimental genetically engineered crops. For almost two decades, GMO companies including Monsanto, BASF Plant Science, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer, and Syngenta, have continued to dump an obscene amount of synthetic pesticides and herbicides on their test crops near the town of Waimea, on the southwest coast of Kaua’i. All of the GMO field experiments occurring on the island are supervised by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The pesticides being used all have the EPA’s approval.
Grist reports that the companies are using seven toxic chemicals: alachlor, atrazine, chlorpyrifos, methomyl, metolachlor, paraquat, and permethrin. These chemicals have been linked to various health problems including cancer and childhood cognitive disorders.
The Kaua’i County Council is fighting the GMO giants on their island, however. Last fall, the Council enacted Ordinance 960, a law that aims to regulate the cultivation of existing genetically modified crops. The ordinance also aims to create no-spray buffer zones near schools and other public areas, but it will not go as far as banning GMO crops altogether. Currently, residents are trying to add an amendment to the charter that would tighten the regulations further. Protests were held last week at the 2014 Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) International Convention being held in San Diego. The protests were “calling for transparency, consumer rejection of GE crops and regulatory overhaul of the chemical +GMO industry practices,” according to the Hawaii Reporter.
Kaua’i has an isolated geography, which has fostered the evolution of diverse birds, bugs and plants. The toxic chemicals are, unsurprisingly, posing a risk to the people of Kaua’i, as well as the island’s unique organisms. Carl Berg, an ecologist and advocate for clean water with the Kaua’i chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, along with other activists, “fear that these endemic species are being put at great risk of extinction by exposure to the chemicals,” reports Grist. Although Berg says he has “no idea the extent of the damage.”
While undoubtedly these GMO companies will do everything in their power to continue their harmful test crop work and pesticide use, residents who oppose these companies’ practices, (including pro surfers who love Hawai’i and its natural beauty), will also continue fighting to put an end to all GMOs and pesticide use on the island.
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Image: Alex Schwab