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SHAKA Movement Hosts Hawai‘i’s Anti-GMO Superstars

Walter and Mercy Ritte “preach to the choir” in Pa‘ia.

December 19, 2013
Dr. Janet Six - Contributing Writer , Maui Weekly

Joe Marshalla, representing the SHAKA Movement (Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the 'Aina), told a packed house at the Pa'ia Community Center that there are three ways to ask for change: "You can fight, you can plead, and you can just say no."

According to Marshalla, SHAKA will utilize the latter, calling for a moratorium on all GMO (genetically modified organism) activities in Hawai'i until biotech corporations can prove they are safe.

Marshalla also encouraged attendees of the Wednesday, Dec. 4, meeting to visit the new SHAKA Website (www.shakamovement.org), which he described as an information hub. He stressed that their GMO findings must be easily accessed, and more importantly, shared.

Article Photos

Well-known Native Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte spoke to a packed house at the Pā‘ia Community Center on Wednesday, Dec. 4. He called the mayor’s agreement with Monsanto “embarrassing,” called Monsanto “cockroaches” and encouraged voters to put pressure on their elected officials to start listening to their constituents.”

Addressing the crowd next were Bruce and Satia Douglas, also representing SHAKA, and Courtney Bruch of GMO Free Hawai'i. It was very clear from the onset that what they were espousing fell on very receptive ears.

As the main event ensued, the featured "stars" of the evening, Native Hawaiian activists and Molokai residents Walter Ritte and his daughter-in-law, Mercy Ritte, took center stage.

Mercy, the founder of Mokokai Mom on a Mission (Molokai MOM), an anti-GMO movement, presented a short documentary film about her journey from homemaker to social activist, entitled "Standing Up to GMO."

According to Mercy, after her young son developed a persistent cough, she began to question agricultural activities on the island--specifically those conducted by Monsanto, which operates on Molokai upwind from her family's home.

The film ends with footage of the Occupy Monsanto GMO Free Molokai march and protest at the state Legislature earlier this year, which, according to the Rittes, had over 4,000 participants.

In addition to featuring her father-in-law, the film also showcased world-renowned anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva, who travelled from India to address the hundreds of peaceful protesters gathered on the Friendly Isle.

When asked in the film by the Rittes about the costs associated with successfully eradicating Monsanto, the main employer on Molokai, Shiva simply stated, "Money isn't the measure; health and welfare is."

According to Shiva, 250,000 Indian cotton farmers have committed suicide because of Monsanto's unethical practices in her country alone. "No one should 'own' life," she stated repeatedly, referring to GMO patents on seeds.

Following the film, Walter took the stage. Well-known to the activist community in Hawai'i, he has been the central figure of controversy for decades. Called a "charismatic leader," he was involved in the successful repatriation of Kaho'olawe from the military in the 1990s, and was instrumental in outlawing GMO research and testing on the Polynesian staple crop kalo (taro).

According to Ritte, when he first started protesting Monsanto's activities on Molokai, there were about five individuals holding anti-GMO signs. Today, he said, thousands have joined the anti-GMO movement across the state.

There was also much criticism of Mayor Alan Arakawa's recent memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Monsanto, entitled, "Maui County AG Oversight Agreement," encouraging the biotech giant to voluntarily report all "restricted use of pesticides" in Maui County, including how much of the restricted chemicals are sprayed and where.

Ritte called the mayor's MOU with Monsanto "embarrassing."

Several audience members chimed in, stating that County Councilwoman Elle Cochran, a rising voice in Maui County's anti-GMO movement, has plans to propose new, stricter legislation.

Ritte also did not hold back his feelings about GMO companies on his island and around the state.

"They operate like cockroaches, but when we turn on the light, they run," he said, speaking to the pressure he and other groups have continued to put on GMO lobbyists operating in the state.

According to Walter, "It's simple mathematics. If the voters put pressure on their elected officials, the politicians will have to stop listening to the 'cockroaches' and start listening to their constituents."

During the evening, Walter made several references to a well-known, old-time, Waikiki-style singer on O'ahu throughout the evening, once stating, "The problem [GMOs] is so obvious, even Johnny Alameda could see it," causing one section of the audience to twitter with laughter, while the majority looked confused. Alameda was blind.

But there is something else that Alameda might not have missed--an article in Forbes Magazine that, for some, may tarnish Ritte's star quality by questioning whether Hawai'i's rapidly growing GMO "grassroots" movement is receiving funding from special interest groups.

In the Oct. 2 article, entitled "Hawai'i Anti-GMO Activists Rely on Mainland Millionaires for 'Grassroots' Campaign," 19-time Emmy-winning journalist John Entine specifically questioned the Ritte's ethics and motives, citing numerous problems and discrepancies in campaign contribution reporting for his recent failed attempt at an Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) seat.

Entine is the founder of the Genetic Literacy Project, which, like the SHAKA Movement, strives to empower people through access to information (www.geneticliteracyproject.org). However, the conclusions they reach through their research and/or interpretation of data are polar opposites--"Standing Up to GMO" vs. standing up for GMO.

At the end of the day, for most laymen and consumers, knowledge about GMO technology comes from those we consider to be experts and depends on knowing whom to trust.

 
 

 

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