Spreading The Seeds Of Aloha

According to the Center For Food Safety, up to 85 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered (GE). So are 91 percent of soybeans, 95 percent of sugar beets and 88 percent of cotton (cottonseed oil often is used in food products). About 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves contain GE ingredients.

Hawaii’s year-round growing season significantly contributes to it being the world’s epicenter for GE seed research. Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow Chemical Company, Bayer CropScience and DuPont have seed farms on Kaua’i.

GE seed corn grown in Hawaii is valued at $250 million a year. The industry grows on approximately 15,000 Hawaiian acres, and uses more than 70 pesticides to grow GE crops for breeding, research and seed production.

“If you work for a seed company, you’re working for a chemical company that is trying to take over seed,” said Dr. Vandana Shiva, a former leading quantum physicist in India who has spent the last 25 years saving seeds and promoting biodiversity in agriculture. She was one of three guest speakers Jan. 17 at Kaua’i War Memorial Hall. Approximately 1,600 residents attended the seed giveaway and speaking event organized by Hawaii SEED and GMO Free Kaua’i.

Free information was provided including the book, Facing Hawaii’s Future, as well as weighty handouts, titled “Environmental Health Risks of Synthetic Chemicals used by the Biotechnology Seed Industry in Hawaii” by Hector Valenzuela of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and “A Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides are undermining our children’s health and intelligence” by Kristin S. Schafer, M.A., and Emily C. Marquez, Ph.D.

Regenerations Botanical Garden gave away Kaua’i-grown heirloom seed packets. Makana, a musician and Hawaiian activist, played for the crowd. Students from Kanuikapono Public Charter School in Anahola led a prayer asking ancestors to help protect Kaua’i’s sacred land.

“The five giant corporations on this island, having declared a chemical warfare on this island, are controlling the seed supply of the world and would like to control the last seed and our last morsel of food,” Shiva told the crowd. “In 1984, a pesticide plant in India owned by Dow Chemical had a leak in the middle of the night. Three thousand people were killed immediately. You think you’re benefiting from a job? You must consider the harm to yourself, your children and future generations.”

In 1997, GE cottonseed was planted in India. Today, 95 percent of cottonseed is owned by Monsanto, which collects royalties.

“When you are a small, poor farmer, the only way you can pay for those royalties is by getting into debt,” said Shiva. “Unpayable debt related to GE seeds, and the intellectual property rights linked to them, have pushed 270,000 Indian farmers to suicide.”

Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte founded “Label It Hawaii” after leading a successful effort to remove three U.S. patents on Hawaiian taro. At Hanapepe Salt Ponds, Ritte listened to residents talk about the immense death of sea life.

“The seed companies have left the land bare, and everything goes downhill,” he told the crowd.

“On the island of Moloka’i we are fiercely protective of our natural resources because that’s how we feed our families. Thirty-three percent of everything we eat comes from our natural resources.”

Andrew Kimbrell, a leading environmental attorney, author and executive director of the Center for Food Safety told the crowd that CFS was instrumental in preventing GE tomatoes, potatoes, wheat, rice, sugar beets, bovine growth hormone (BGH) and biopharmaceuticals from infiltrating the marketplace.

“Don’t tell me Monsanto can’t be beat!” he said to the crowd, which included Waimea residents, some of whom filed a lawsuit against Pioneer/DuPont in December 2011 for applying pesticides on 734 days of the last three years.

Prior to the event, the speakers dined with Waimea plaintiffs.

“I’ve promoted biodiversity and seed saving movements in India, and I’m the vice president of Slow Food International,” Shiva explained to me, “so I get to eat the best of foods. The kale salad and coconut dessert have to be among the top dishes I have tasted anywhere. If this land and the people can produce that kind of food, it is so unfair that everyone is not eating it every day. Instead, 90 percent of the food is being imported and the fertile land is being used for GMO seed production, spraying poison on the land and people.”

“This island has the most to lose,” Ritte said to the crowd. “This is the most beautiful island of all our islands. We all have to rise up together. If we don’t learn how to feed ourselves, we can never be independent, self-sufficient and sovereign. We love this island, and we are going to protect it come hell or high water.”

Marta lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information about genetically modified food, visit TastingKauai.com.