The hurricane gathers force
The anti-GE sentiment had been simmering for some time under the heat of GMO-Free Hawaii, Hawaii SEED and other activists groups in Hawaii and on the mainland.
“For nearly a decade, an impressionable anti-GMO mob mentality has been carefully cultivated in Hawaii by slick and well-financed outsiders,” said Jon Entine, a journalist with the Genetic Literacy Project. Anti-GMO activists includes Hawaii SEED, which received $374,040 in 2011-2012 from the Ceres Trust of Minnesota. These funds helped produce the ‘Red Book’ or Facing Hawaii’s Future: Essential Information About GMOs, a compendium of 19 basic articles, most under five pages, on topics ranging from what a GM plant is to policy issues to community activism. Most of the 15 authors are well-known activists in the anti-GE campaign in Hawaii, including Bondera. If there is a bible for the anti-GE movement in Hawaii, this is it.
The first public comment meeting on a bill to restrict GE crops on the Big Island turned into a marathon session for the Hawaii County Council on May 14, 2013. Nearly 100 people were given three minutes each to speak on GE crops and GMOs in general. All hearings were videotaped and made available to the general public. In the first public hearing, most people spoke with a great deal of passion. All but a few of the speakers wanted to ban GMOs and strongly expressed their ideas: “They are killing animals and will likely kill people;” “I am against GMOs because they promote and encourage the use of pesticides in their crops;” “Biotech industries are given free reign by our Federal Government to regulate themselves;” “We have all seen the pictures of rats with giant tumors and we know the massive bee die-off is caused by Bt toxins;” “In India GMO cotton causes cows to die.” The use of GMOs was likened to “pesticide holocausts” and people claimed that various cancers, respiratory issues, infertility problems and miscarriages were caused by such crops.
Perhaps the most intriguing remark made by a GMO opponent was that there are two types of people: the “thinkers” who want data and the “feelers” who act intuitively. The woman who made this remark believed GMOs were evil and it seemed unlikely that anyone or any amount of data could convince her otherwise.
Only a few people spoke against the proposed bill. Susan Miyasaka, an agronomist at the University of Hawaii, began her presentation by stating her “testimony was not biased by financial considerations because she never received any research money from the seed companies.” Miyasaka said her allocated three minutes only gave her time to discuss the claim that GE crops harm public safety. She said she reviewed the literature and found that there is “no credible evidence that any genetically engineered crop that was approved by the USDA, FDA and EPA has resulted in any food illness or health problem.” She ended her presentation with the statement: “People are allowed to have their own opinions, but not their own facts.”
As she spoke about the safety of GE crops, the expressions of people in the audience could only be described as incredulous. Contrary to all previous statements about the purported health dangers of GE crops, this petite, soft-spoken scientist calmly challenged their facts. For her testimony, a later speaker in the public forum called her a “whore.” Days later, Wille wrote a letter in the local newspaper calling Miyasaka a “mouthpiece for the GMO biotech industry.”
Several more hearings were held as Wille and Ford pushed forward to ban or severely restrict GE crops. On September 23, Jeffrey Smith, a well-known anti-GE activist, addressed the packed chamber via Skype. Smith’s presentation, including the Q&A, took 55 minutes compared to the three minutes allotted Miyasaka and other scientists. Smith’s talk was well presented and full of references to his two self-published books. His final message was simple, “No GMO products in our food system and no GMO crops should be grown outside.” He related horror stories about GM research practices, GM products and federal regulations. Richard Ha, a commercial farmer who attended that meeting said, “Smith’s really good at what he does—scare people. He attributed every human disease to GMOs.”