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Maui v. Monsanto: Hawaii County Voters Defy Agri-Giant's Spending to OK Landmark Ban on GMO Crops

StoryNovember 06, 2014
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Guests
Lorrin Pang

has served as a consultant to the World Health Organization and works for Maui’s Department of Health. He recently retired from being a professor of medicine at Federal University in Brasilia, Brazil. In the capacity of a private citizen, Pang has raised concerns about the possible health and environmental risks posed by GMOs. He was one of the five co-sponsors of Maui’s successful GMO moratorium bill.


Ballot initiatives to require labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs, failed to pass Tuesday in Colorado and Oregon, after agribusiness giants Monsanto, PepsiCo and Kraft spent millions to help defeat the measures. But in a victory for food safety advocates, Hawaii’s Maui County passed one of the strongest anti-GMO measures ever, despite the opposition outspending supporters by a ratio of 87 to 1. The Maui GMO moratorium calls for a complete suspension of the cultivation of GMO crops until studies conclusively prove they are safe. Maui is often called "GMO Ground Zero" and the moratorium that passed Tuesday could have national implications because multinational seed producers, such as Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, use the county to research and develop new seed varieties. Under the new measure, farmers who knowingly cultivate GMOs could be penalized with a $50,000-per-day fine. On Wednesday, Monsanto released a statement saying it plans to ask the Maui court to declare the initiative "legally flawed" and not enforceable. We are joined in Maui by Dr. Lorrin Pang, a public health official who helped draft and submit Maui’s successful GMO moratorium initiative.


TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ballot initiatives to require labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs, failed to pass Tuesday in Colorado and Oregon, after agribusiness giants Monsanto, PepsiCo and Kraft spent millions to help defeat the measures. But in a victory for food safety advocates, Hawaii’s Maui County passed one of the strongest anti-GMO measures ever, despite the opposition outspending supporters by a ratio of 87 to one. The Maui GMO moratorium calls for a complete suspension of the cultivation of GMO crops until studies conclusively prove they are safe. The studies will be paid for by the seed companies but administered by the county.

In the weeks before the election, the anti-moratorium group, billed as "Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban," paid for more than $1.3 million worth of TV ads statewide. In one ad, the group claimed the moratorium would cause the loss of hundreds of jobs and devastate the county’s economy.

SHARON ZALSOS: This initiative truly has zero aloha. It’s not just GMO. It’s the mom-and-pop store. It’s the coffee shop down the road. I don’t know how people will pay their mortgages. I don’t know how people will pay their bills. I don’t know how people will get their medical or send their kids to school or provide clothing for them. This will affect our economy. This will affect our future.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Scores of Maui residents worked to counter pro-GMO propaganda with grassroots outreach to share their concerns about seed companies’ farming practices. They also created their own ads seeking to debunk their opponents’ claims.

ALIKA ATAY: Aloha, Maui County. You’re being misinformed by a group calling themselves the Citizens Against the Farming Ban.

EVAN RYAN: The GMO initiative asks for a temporary suspension of GMO crops while health and environmental impact studies can be conducted. There is no farming ban.

IPO MOKIAO: This bill affects the chemical companies doing GMO. That’s just 1 percent of all farming operations in Maui County. They paid for those ads.

AMY GOODMAN: Maui is often called "GMO Ground Zero," and the moratorium that passed Tuesday could have national implications because multinational seed producers, such as Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, use the county to research and develop new seed varieties. Under the new measure, farmers who knowingly cultivate GMOs could be penalized with a $50,000 fine per day. On Wednesday, Monsanto released a statement saying it plans to ask the Maui court to declare the initiative, quote, "legally flawed" and not enforceable.

For more, we go now to Maui, where we’re joined by Dr. Lorrin Pang. He has served as a consultant to the World Health Organization and works for Maui’s Department of Health. As a private citizen, Dr. Pang has raised concerns about the possible health and environmental risks posed by GMOs. He helped draft and submit Maui’s successful GMO moratorium initiative.

And from the studios of Vermont PBS in Colchester, Vermont, we’re joined by Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. The company has campaigned heavily for GMO labeling in its home state, Vermont, as well as in Oregon, where it renamed one of its ice cream flavors "Food Fight Fudge Brownie."

Well, Dr. Lorrin Pang and Jerry Greenfield, welcome to Democracy Now! Let’s start in Hawaii, where this anti-GMO initiative actually won on Tuesday. How did it happen? What exactly does the new bill, the new iniative, say, Lorrin Pang? And how did it happen?

DR. LORRIN PANG: Well, the how it happens was historical. I’ve been watching this issue for the last 12 years. Twelve years ago, we began to win in court. And I guess that raised some eyebrows. And we tried to win legislatively. Over the last 12 years, we’ve been repeatedly not heard. The legislators in charge, whoever’s committee, would send it off to other committees. We could never get a hearing on this. Nonetheless, we had a major victory about five years ago legislatively on the county level. The Big Island County and Maui, we blocked the genetic modification of taro—which is important culturally to the Hawaiians—in the laboratory, in the markets and in the fields. So we tried for this one, but we knew that legislatively legislators would not hear it, so we put it on a petition for a voters’ initiative about three months ago. And looks like we won, barely won, a couple days ago.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Were you surprised, Dr. Pang, that the initiative actually succeeded?

DR. LORRIN PANG: I’ve been so used to losing so many times in the Legislature that I guess it’s kind of like an abused kid: You don’t expect anything better. Nonetheless, this issue has moved very well over the last 12 years. Twelve years ago, I could name on two hands all the people in the state who knew what GMO, genetically modified organisms, stood for. Now we have thousands of people. So it really has been a grassroots education effort.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you say to Monsanto, who said this is just illegal, a court’s got to throw it out? And the significance of this goes way beyond Maui. As we said in the lede, this is where Monsanto and Dow, they do a lot of their seed growing, and you’re saying, "You cannot grow GMO crops."

DR. LORRIN PANG: Correct. I think we have the right as a county, the lowest level of government, to be—pass our own rules, to be more precautious, that we are not to be pre-empted, in the name of precaution, by the higher governments, state and federal. Now, we will not do things that violate people’s rights, but the lower-level governments always have the right to be more precautious. We do not feel that the regulators—the EPA, FDA, USDA—nor the state have our best interests and are cautious enough with respect to health and environment.

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