A standing-room-only crowd of over 150 Maui residents packed the Pa'ia Community Center to hear a talk by Dr. Lorrin Pang.
Pang, a medical doctor who serves as Maui's district health officer, spoke as a private citizen. He stressed the need for more scrutiny, more information and regulatory review of the genetically modified agricultural crops being grown in Hawai'i. He also called for a moratorium until more reliable data on their safety can be produced.
The event was presented by The SHAKA Movement (Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the 'Aina) on the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 13.
Dr. Lorrin Pang spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the Pā‘ia Community Center, urging greater caution and more regulatory review of GMO crops here. His presentation was recorded by at least five videos crews.
Photo: Debra Lordan
Pang's PowerPoint presentation, which spanned nearly two hours, was warmly received. It was apparent from the outset that as far as this crowd was concerned, he was preaching to the choir.
It was followed by a brief question and answer period.
The entire session was recorded by at least five videos crews.
But the presentation itself was not easy to follow. It had many slides with type too small to read, even sitting in the first row. Pang repeatedly mentioned that his remarks were being produced for distribution for others facing similar situations in other states, including Arizona.
Pang attempted to cover a broad range of scientific, medical, political, regulatory, legislative, ethical and agricultural questions at a breakneck pace. Topics ranged from how genes are modified and what the consequences can be to the mandate in Hawai'i's state constitution that public trust resources must be protected for the benefit of present and future generations.
Though the issues raised were complex and do not lend themselves to short summaries, there were several, clear takeaways from Pang's talk:
The point he reiterated most often was "precautionary principle." His view is that until more is known and reliable data has been compiled, it is up to the agri-tech companies doing business here to prove that their products are safe--and not the other way round.
Pang was also outspoken on what he saw as the failure of the whole gamut of regulatory agencies to properly oversee and evaluate the impact of the biotech work being done in the islands--on the land, the health of the citizens and the mutations and combinations that might not yet have appeared or reliably identified. Pang characterized responses to his questions in these areas as having been repeatedly "stonewalled."
Some of the questions he raised included: What are the impacts of spraying pesticides close to schools? Is it safe to breathe the dust? Won't soil sterilization be harmful to other life forms? Wouldn't a moratorium be a safer way to go forward when we risk altering the food chain as we know it? Weren't we once assured that cigarettes were safe? Did that turn out to be true?
Pang's credibility was supported by his personal credentials, which include a degree from Princeton, Tulane Medical School, service with the World Health Organization and extensive international experience in tropical medicine combined with deep roots in Hawai'i.
Pang himself presented a unique persona--not your standard issue civil servant by a long shot. He projected, by turns, the gallant knight Lochinvar, the incendiary Don Quixote, willing to do battle with giants. At other times during the long evening, he evoked the ghost of Lenny Bruce at his cynical best.
Speaking briefly before Pang took the stage were Bruce Douglas and Joe Marshalla representing SHAKA. They said that 80 percent of genetically modified seed corn is produced in Hawai'i. Their goal is to "get rid of" these agricultural facilities by "peacefully standing up for our rights." SHAKA intends to pursue these objectives on several fronts.
On the legal side, they said Attorney George Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety will be consulting on future litigation. Kimbrell practices environmental and administrative law with a focus on the impacts of new and emerging technologies.
In the political arena, SHAKA expects to begin gathering signatures for a 2014 Maui County ballot measure that will seek to protect public resources and challenge the use of lands in Hawai'i for genetically modified agriculture. The measure is expected to propose a moratorium here until the companies that grow the GMO products can prove the safety of their products. They needed 8,500 valid signatures to put a question on the ballot, but their goal is to gather 20,000.
According to David Raatz, director of Council Services for the County of Maui, voters have the ability to propose and enact ordinances by initiative, pursuant to requirements listed in Article 11 of the County Charter. Twenty percent of voters in the prior mayoral election must sign a petition to put a measure on the ballot. This power, Raatz said in an email, has not been previously exercised in Maui County.
Voters, he wrote, also have the ability to propose and approve charter amendments, pursuant to Article 14 of the charter. Twenty percent of voters registered in the prior general election must sign a petition to directly place a charter amendment on the ballot. Likewise, this power has not been previously exercised.
Raatz said the numbers of signature required for an initiative is 8,464. A charter amendment would require 17,211.
SHAKA also distributed informational literature at the event. The organization's talking points urged supporters to familiarize their friends and neighbors with the precautionary principle, soil sterilization, unregulated chemical cocktails and horizontal gene transfer.
Their handouts stated that so far, Hawai'i has much to lose and little to gain by ignoring the potential for irreversible damage to the local environment, or put another way: "We get the poisons, they get the profits."
This latest incarnation of the food safety and anti-GMO movement follows on a tumultuous year that saw the topic gain widespread attention in the 2013 session of the Hawai'i State Legislature, followed by a series of anti-Monsanto, anti-GMO marches. These drew thousands to the streets across the Hawaiian Islands on multiple occasions.
SHAKA is a new organization with ambitious goals. If successful, in combination with other like-minded groups, it may play a pivotal--if as yet undefined--role in setting the agenda for the next election.
For more information about the SHAKA Movement, visit shakamovement.ning.com.