Mayor exhibits callous indifference to public health, environmental issues

Viewpoint

On behalf of Maui County voters who voted two years ago to pass a temporary moratorium on genetically modified organism experiments conducted in the county and on behalf of Maui mothers worried about their children’s health, I’d like to reply to Mayor Alan Arakawa’s Viewpoint in the Dec. 2 Maui News.

While very clear about the rights of a foreign corporation to conduct what the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judges referred to as “experimental crops,” the mayor exhibits a callous indifference to the fundamental issues of public health and environmental sanity.

Clearly the mayor had a dog in that race. He attacked the Sustainable Hawaii Agriculture for the Keiki and the ‘Aina petition from the moment it was launched, saying that it was illegal and unenforceable. To add insult to injury, he managed to have the language on the ballot emphasize penalties while failing to explain the purpose of the initiative.

The financially extravagant and bogus campaign mounted by Monsanto and Dow then claimed that SHAKA was out to ban farming on Maui. The mayor agreed that he might have to have “papaya police” going from house to house.

After the measure passed by a slim margin — 23,400 in favor — the mayor and county attorneys managed to certify all election results but that one. Because of this chicanery, on Dec. 7 SHAKA attorneys filed a petition in state court to have the election results certified.

Then the mayor and county attorneys, working quietly with seed industry forces, quietly arranged to have the case moved from state court to federal court where, a few months later, a federal judge took the unprecedented step of prohibiting Maui’s government from certifying the vote.

This was a strategic move that benefited the industry as the federal judge seemed unaware of key provisions in the Hawaii Constitution declaring “all political power” in the state as “inherent in the people.” The constitution further specifies that “each person has the right to a clean and healthful environment.”

In all court proceedings after that, Maui county attorneys continued to sit on their hands and agree to all Monsanto and Dow arguments, never raising an objection or making a comment on behalf of our right to health.

So, yes, the mayor is entitled to take a victory lap about being right all along. But the lap should be around Monsanto’s fields so he can get a good whiff of the pesticide odors that waft south from them. While in the neighborhood he might want to talk to some of the distraught moms who still worry about their children’s long-term health and wonder why neither the county nor the state can do anything to protect them.

Moms do indeed have plenty to worry about, as do we all. Seven of the eight most used pesticides have been declared “probable carcinogens.” For decades, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. used tens of thousands of pounds of atrazine on sugar fields; atrazine is a known endocrine disrupter. Even the Appeals Court judges, while ruling on the narrow technical issue of preemption, acknowledged that GMO practices harm other crops and farmers

The outcome of this protracted battle is critically important because, under this new preemption attack used by the seed industry in court cases across the country — this Monsanto Doctrine — regulatory agencies are neutered in efforts to protect our food supply and public health. The preemption doctrine gives national and state agencies an empty authority devoid of any real ability to regulate the toxic agrochemical companies that own and rule our food supply. Local governments can either shrug off their responsibility or fight to demand protection for their citizens.

Since our mayor now knows who has regulatory authority, he and his appointees should be doing everything in their powers to persuade our legislators to pass stronger laws. He should demand that the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health act responsibly to inspect our streams and reefs and to actively protect our precious environment and even more precious keiki health.

Mayor Arakawa has an empathy problem. He is so convinced he is right about pesticides being harmless, yet he is unwilling to listen to his constituents. Many County Council members had the same inability to listen to their constituents. In a few weeks we will have a new council, some of them supported by the Sustainable Action Fund for the Environment. We know they have heard our concerns and we know that they listen with their hearts.

* Maui resident Mark Sheehan, Ph.D., is an environmental educator. He is a board member of Sustainable Hawaii Agriculture for the Keiki and the ‘Aina, as well as the Sustainable Action Fund for the Environment.

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