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Maui may become state‘s next GMO and pesticide battlefield

December 12, 2013
Maui Weekly

Honolulu Civil Beat - The fight over genetically engineered crops and pesticides is shifting to Maui.

Councilmember Elle Cochran submitted a bill to the Maui County Council last week requiring agricultural companies to disclose details about their pesticide use to the county, while farmers would have to report any genetically altered organisms they are growing.

The bill mirrors legislation that recently passed on Kaua'i over the protests of biotech companies that have vowed to sue the county.

It also comes on the heels of Hawai'i Island Mayor Billy Kenoi signing Bill 113 into law last week, which bans biotech companies from growing genetically altered seeds and farmers from harvesting any new GMO crops.

The spate of legislation reflects a growing frustration at the county level toward what some council members say is lax state oversight of pesticides and GMO crops. And it marks a widening offensive by the increasingly organized anti-GMO movement in Hawai'i.

Maui County has twice tried and failed in recent years to pass GMO labeling laws. The county already bans GMO taro.

Although Cochran said her bill does not specifically target biotech companies, they will likely be most affected, if the legislation passes in its current form.

The bill requires commercial agricultural companies that use more than five pounds or 15 gallons of restricted-use pesticides to disclose what chemicals they spray, where and in what quantities. Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. will likely be affected.

The bill would apply to all of Maui County--including Molokai, where both Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences operate and collectively employ nearly 200 people. Monsanto also operates in Kihei and HC&S grows sugarcane in Central Maui and on the North Shore.

While the fight over GMOs and pesticides on Hawai'i Island and Kauai have often been heated, Adolph Helm, project manager at Dow AgroSciences on Molokai, hopes that discussions in Maui County will remain civil.

"I just hope that it will be a discussion that is done in a way that is respectful and done in a collaborative effort with the county council and the mayor's cabinet and in a way that we can always look at both sides of the issue," said Helm.

The debate on Molokai over biotech could grow particularly contentious. The biotech industry supports about one-tenth of the island's population, but is also home to Walter Ritte, one of the state's most visible anti-GMO activists.

In a move that might potentially preempt the county legislation, Monsanto forged an agreement with Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa that promises to disclose details about its pesticide use and increase community outreach.

Cochran said that the memorandum of understanding between the mayor and Monsanto doesn't go far enough. "Not even close," she said.



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