For several years, Hawaiian rights activist Walter Ritte has studied and fought against the development of Genetically Modified Organisms on Molokai.
Ritte has campaigned for legislation to ban the genetic modification of taro and for all other proposed anti-GMO laws. Now he has teamed up with the statewide group Label It Hawaii in an effort to require that all foods containing genetically engineered products be labeled as such.
“Molokai is paying the true cost for this ‘cheap’ GMO food,” explains Ritte in his written statement. “Our best farm lands are being turned into dust bowls. Soil is not only blowing out into the sea but is being washed by rain down onto our reefs. In the dust are powerful chemicals, which are blowing into our cars, schools, kupuna housing, daycare center, county baseball park, Molokai Community College, and hundreds of homes. If this is happening to our island, it must be happening on other islands, we all have na’au to aloha ‘aina, and kuleana, to malama ‘aina.”
With the ultimate goal of getting a state GMO labeling law in front of the 2013 state legislature, Ritte will be on Oahu Wednesday when the City and County Council of Honolulu will hold a hearing in Kapolei regarding resolution 12-57, “urging the State of Hawaii and the FDA to require the labeling of GMOs.”
According to a recent editorial in the Star Advertiser, submitted by Label It Hawaii, “The FDA’s anti-GMO labeling policy rests on the antiquated doctrine that only those changes in food that can be detected by taste, smell or other senses need to be labeled.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration supports this position by stating that the National Research Council Committee has concluded that assessing food safety based solely on how the food was produced is scientifically unjustified.
Label It Hawaii compares this current effort to ban GMOs with the work to ban the use of the pesticide DDT in the 20th Century. While it was recognized that DDT had adverse health and environmental impacts, it took almost 100 years after it was first produced for the EPA to ban DDT in 1972.
Like the manufacturers of DDT who fought its ban, Monsanto — the worldwide leader in the production of GMO seeds and Molokai’s largest employer — has resisted any type of government regulation. For example, the National Academy of Sciences has called for regulation that would make the process of testing GMO food products more transparent and rigorous. Monsanto has strongly lobbied against this type of regulation.
Label It Hawaii believes consumers have the right to know what is in their food products. “Mandatory labeling would also give akamai consumers the ability to choose whether the foods they consume are produced in a sustainable manner.”
While federal GMO-labeling has been introduced and failed on the federal level, there are currently 55 members of Congress, including Senator Dan Akaka, who have signed a letter of support to label GMO products.
Hawaii is one of 14 states seeking mandatory labeling of GMO foods. This is evidence of the unprecedented groundswell of support for labeling across the nation, according to Label It Hawaii. “Hawaii prides itself on leading the nation in efforts to protect the safety of our food and the health of our environment.”
The group has identified seven members of the City and County Council who are either on the fence or are opposed to the labeling legislation. To get the additional five votes needed to pass the resolution, Label It Hawaii is asking supporters to contact the following members:
Ernie Martin: A supporter of GMOs, 768-5002; Ikaika Anderson: “Kailua and Waimanalo guys need to talk with him,” 768-5003; Stanley Chang: “He is on the fence (voted yes with reservation at committee level),” 768-5004; Ann Kobayashi: “She is budget chair and must be influential on the Council,” 768-5005; Romy Cachola: Kalihi is his district, 768-5007; Breene Harimoto: “He did turn around and vote yes at the committee level,” 768-5008; Nestor Garcia: Kunia and Kapolei is his district, “He also needs a lot of persuasion,” 768-5009.
Label It Hawaii is also asking supporters to submit testimony, online or in person; or to join them at 9 a.m. Wednesday at Kapolei with labeling signs for a “support rally” prior to the public hearing.