GMO No-Go for Some

Monsanto at agricultural fair protested.

While last Saturday’s County Fair was all about educating Molokai regarding its agricultural community, a few residents were unhappy with a particular presence.

About a dozen protestors stood outside the entrance to Lanikeha Center, where the first annual Country Fair was held, holding signs with messages such as ‘Grow Food, Not Seeds’ and ‘We Not Lying, GMOs are bad, check it out for yourself.’

The signs were referring to Monsanto, a global corporation that produces genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The Molokai unit researches various strains of corn for seed trials.

Molokai activist Walter Ritte said he is against Monsanto because of its track record in other communities.

“It’s a chemical company, but calls [itself] a farmer,” he said. “So far they’ve done bad things to our land.”

Ritte said the ‘bad things’ include soil erosion – the lack of cover crop on Monsanto’s fields – that wash the dirt into the ocean and destroy coral. He also isn’t sure how safe GMO crops are, saying the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate GMOs.

“They’re not growing crops for us to eat, and [their] profits not being shared,” said protestor Ehulani Kane.

Ray Foster, Monsanto’s Molokai manager, disagreed.

“It’s not correct to say we don’t grow food,” he said at Monsanto’s Country Fair booth. “The products we grow and develop here are sold around the world. We are responsible for food and fiber for millions of people.”

Conflicts of Interests
Monsanto is facing controversy worldwide from GMO and anti-monopoly protestors . Monsanto’s products are herbicide-resistant, except to its own herbicide, Round-Up. Forbes reported that 80 percent of the corn crop in the U.S. is grown with “seeds containing Monsanto’s technology.”

“Farming nothing new here,” Ritte said, who is also a homestead farmer. “We’ve got land, water – it just depends what you’re going to grow.”

One protestor, Bridget Mowat, said Monsanto’s GMOs and pesticide Roundup create an imbalance in farming – the “cycle” of pollinators and other insects becomes disturbed.

“It’s ruining God’s work,” she added. Many of the other protestors said they are also concerned about future generation’s health and economic benefits.

The protestors also handed out information about GMOs and their position on them – including that GMOs contaminate non-GMO plants and destroy native species. But Juan Carlos Paz, operations supervisor at Monsatno, said this is misrepresented – corn doesn’t have the ability to cross-contaminate with other species, and doesn’t contaminate Hawaiian species.

One large contention between the protestors and Monsanto is economics – as the largest employer on an island with the highest unemployment in the state, many community members see the company as a necessity.

“There are pros and cons like everything else,” said farmer, and fair organizer Lynn Decoite. “For families that need the jobs, there’s no other way to provide.”

Monsanto has a grant fund that gives money to different Molokai organizations. Over the past several years, the Monsanto Fund has given around $150,000 to various Molokai organizations, according to Dawn Bicoy, the community affairs manager.

“I feel we are the community – our employees are people born and raised here,” Foster said.

Not all protestors feel this is enough, however.

“Why would I trust someone that made Agent Orange to grow my food,” Kane asked.