Opponents of GMOs make ‘last push’ on initiative

WAILUKU – Maui County supporters of a ballot initiative to force growers of genetically engineered food to prove their crops’ safety made their “last push” Sunday afternoon before they have to submit 8,500 signatures to the county clerk’s office next week.

At least 1,000 people showed up for the rally, which began at War Memorial Stadium and marched along Kaahumanu Avenue to Hoaloha Park. Outside the park, supporters held signs, wore gas masks and signed the petition to voice their opposition to genetically engineered foods.

“I don’t know how many we got today, but at last count we had 8,000,” Maui supporter Bruce Douglas said.

The initiative, filed last month, calls for the suspension of all “genetically engineered operations and practices” in Maui County until companies prove the activity is safe, which would be done by submitting an environmental public health impact statement with pesticide uses to the County Council for approval on future growing.

Approval from the council would allow for all genetically engineered operations and practices in the county, Douglas said.

Residents Lorrin Pang, Mark Sheehan, Lei’ohu Ryder, Alika Atay and Bonnie Marsh are behind the effort. The nonprofit Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the Aina Movement supported the initiative.

Douglas, who serves as SHAKA Movement’s spokesman, said at least 400 volunteers have been helping to gather signatures, with some going door to door, standing outside health food stores and setting up a booth at Maui Friday Town Parties.

“It’s real grass-roots,” he said. “My job was to get as many packets out there as possible and the more people carrying it – many hands make light work.”

Among the volunteers was Rita Massey, who was passing around a clipboard with papers for attendees at the rally to sign.

While she said going door door was a “little too bold” for her, Massey said: “It’s so important to me that I’m stepping out of my comfort zone to do it.”

Molokai residents Hanohano Naehu and Walter Ritte traveled to Maui for the rally and said that they have been gathering signatures on the Friendly Isle.

“We’ve been doing our best to pump this SHAKA Movement and doing whatever we can to help this cause because it’s not just affecting me, it’s affecting all of us,” Naehu said. “And not only all of us, it’s affecting our future.”

The initiative, filed under Article 11 of the County Charter, highlights issues over environmental protection, pesticide use, government oversight and cross-contamination of nongenetically engineered crops with genetically engineered ones.

Carol Reimann, community and government affairs manager for Monsanto on Maui, said that a temporary ban would “threaten an industry that supports more than a thousand families in Hawaii, generates millions of dollars in economic benefit for the state and contributes valuable scientific knowledge.”

“We are extremely concerned that this petition drive is being driven by misinformation and misunderstanding rather than on good science and credible evidence,” Reimann said via email Sunday. “Hundreds of safety reviews by medical and scientific authorities worldwide have concluded that genetically engineered crops are just as safe as any other kind of farm crop, and that these crops have made a significant difference by helping farmers succeed and softening agriculture’s environmental footprint. This technology has been embraced by numerous environmental and humanitarian organizations for its potential to address some of the world’s most-pressing needs, including hunger, poverty and malnutrition.”

Douglas was somewhat surprised to see the large amount of supporters gathered at the park for food, entertainment and guest speakers. However, he isn’t surprised by the number of signatures the petition has received.

“I knew, because of the depth and commitment of the people who believe in this issue so deeply, that we were going to do it,” he said. “But it did take some effort to really get it out and into people’s hands.”

Once the group has collected the required 8,500 signatures, which are due April 10, the group will try to gather another 5,000, Douglas said. The group plans to submit the ballot at noon April 7 during a small rally in front of the Kalana O Maui building.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.


* GMO rally. A proposed ballot initiative calls for the temporary suspension of genetically engineered organism operations and practices and use of pesticides in Maui County pending an environmental public health impact statement. The statement will be presented to the County Council, which will decide the fate of genetic engineering practices and pesticide use in the county.

If the petition garners 8,500 signatures and is certified by the county clerk, the initiative will head to the County Council for review. If the council approves, the measure will become law. If the council rejects the measure or takes no action, the initiative moves to the Nov. 4 ballot for the voters to decide.

A story on Page A1 on Monday contained some misleading information on the specifics of the initiative and the initiative process.

The Maui News apologies for the error.