UPDATE: GMO Moratorium March & Rally
The march and rally in support of the SHAKA GMO crop moratorium that was originally scheduled for Sunday, March 16, has been changed to Sunday, March 30, according to event organizers. Participants will still assemble in the War Memorial Stadium parking lot at 10 a.m. and walk to the Kahului Canoe Hale, where the rally will begin at noon.
SHAKA Movement Launches GMO Moratorium Drive with Huber Talk
Dr. Don Huber, professor emeritus of plant pathology at Purdue University, presented a long, detailed talk on the dangers of genetically modified organisms and the pesticide Roundup.
The McCoy Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center was packed on Monday night, Feb. 24, for a talk by Dr. Don Huber, a longtime plant pathologist and professor emeritus from Purdue University, one the country's leading agricultural colleges.
An estimated 350 people filled the seats inside the theater and an additional 150 gathered outside to watch the event via a live video feed.
Although GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have been a controversial issue here, not everyone would have expected an audience of this size to come out on a weekday night for a long, highly technical talk. It lasted over an hour and featured pigs, corn, soybeans and some intimate details of cattle miscarriages. But come they did, and gave Dr. Huber a standing ovation at the end.
In addition to his long career at Purdue, Huber is well-known for a 2011 letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack raising questions about the safety of Roundup, a popular herbicide made by the Monsanto Company. In the letter and in his talk, he asserted that top-selling Roundup may contribute to plant disease and health problems for farm animals.
Huber's scientific credentials and outspoken stance against agri-business giants have made him the darling of the anti-GMO movement. In recent months, he has made multiple appearances on the Mainland and also on Kaua'i.
The speaker looked like an update of the famous Grant Wood painting, "American Gothic." In a sea of aloha attire, he was dressed in long-sleeved white shirt, an up-to-the-chin necktie and steel-rimmed glasses. He carried himself with the military bearing befitting his status as retired colonel. He spoke with a sense of authority that came naturally to a father of 11 and grandfather of 42. This was a man clearly used to being in charge.
In contrast, the audience was decked in its North Shore peace-love-good-vibes finery. Their wardrobe mixed glitter, batik and fringed shawls from faraway places with brightly colored Hawaiian shirts. Many greeted each other with long, slow embraces. Scattered around the edge of the courtyard at the entrance to the theater, circus performers twirled hoops and spun from an overhead aerial rig bathed in multi-colored lights.
The event, hosted by the SHAKA Movement (Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the 'Aina), a recently formed Maui citizen's group, marked the kickoff of the organization's signature drive to put a temporary GMO crop moratorium on Maui County's general election ballot.
A total of 8,500 valid signatures are required to place the question before county voters Nov. 4.
As SHAKA member Joe Mashalla explained to the audience, the moratorium petition can only be signed by Maui County registered voters and it must be done in person in the presence of authorized signature gatherers.
The voter registration table outside the hall did a brisk business.
Marshalla estimated that 50 people circulating petitions and collecting as few as five signatures a day could gather the required number in a little over a month.
A SHAKA brochure available at the door stated: "Genetic Engineering (GE) and testing occurring in Maui County are unlike GE crop farming elsewhere in the world and pose unique circumstances risks and concerns. GE operations in Maui County include GE seed crops, experimental GE test crops, soil sterilization, extensive pesticide use and testing of experimental pesticides in what is effectively an outdoor laboratory."
Based on the serious concerns and perceived "irreparable harm," the brochure said "the citizens of Maui County call for a suspension of all GE operations within the county through a temporary moratorium."
Also speaking at the event were five Mauians who acted as sponsors for the legislation. They were Mark Sheehan, a Maui Realtor; Alika Atay, a Hawaiian natural farmer; Lei'ohu Ryder, a musician and Hawaiian cultural practitioner; Dr. Bonnie Marsh, a family naturopathic doctor; and Dr. Lorin Pang, a medical doctor who is Maui's district health officer for the Hawai'i Department of Health. Pang spoke as a private citizen.
Each one came forward briefly to give reasons why they felt the moratorium was needed and urged those present to register, sign the petition, and vote in favor of the moratorium.
One of the points most frequently mentioned was the need to take precautions and suspend the GE activities here until they could be proved safe. Virtually all of the speakers said it was the responsibility of the local agribusiness concerns to prove the safety, not the responsibility of the citizens to prove the harm.
Sheehan termed it "predatory agriculture" and urged Maui to "show up, speak up and stand up."
"What we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves," said Ryder.
On the pragmatic side, Atay urged Maui-ans who worked for agricultural companies to listen to their bosses on the job, but follow their conscience inside the curtains of the voting booth. "This is important," he said.
Marsh, who mentioned the spike in many diseases, including cancer, told the audience, "It's time to take a stand."
Pang was most concerned about the toxicity of what he termed "pesticide cocktails," the overlapping use of many different chemicals with no studies of their combined effect and long-term safety. He was most critical of the regulatory authorities.
"In my opinion," Pang said, "the regulators are asleep at the wheel," adding, "If the feds don't [regulate] and the state doesn't, then the county should."
At least one critical response to the event was posted on the Internet the next day. The Biology Fortified Website reviewed the talk and said that Huber's claims lacked evidence and urged him to release all of his data for peer review (www.biofortified.org/2014/02/hubers-claims-in-maui-lack-evidence).
Dr Huber's speech and the entire SHAKA presentation for Feb. 24 are posted at www.shakamovement.org.
Huber's earlier remarks on Kaua'i and at other locations are widely available online (keywords: Dr. Don Huber). Material about the petition for voter signatures and the language of the proposed legislation are also available on the site.