This is an op-ed piece that I published in the Star-Advertiser today. I'm reprinting it here since it's behind a paywall. My primary message: "We need to support all viable ag in Hawaii."
As the Hawaii Legislature convenes to do its work this session, lawmakers are facing pressing issues that range from the epidemic of homelessness to balancing the budget.
Schools, energy, affordable housing, health care, higher education — all of these important community needs are crying out for attention.
Yet to hear the anti-GMO groups tell it, the Legislature’s No. 1 priority should be imposing more regulations on agriculture under the guise that we’re facing grave dangers from farms that grow genetically modified crops.
Never mind that GMO crops are already highly regulated by state and federal agencies, and evidence of them causing any actual harm in Hawaii is scant to non-existent.
The Center for Food Safety, Babes Against Biotech, Earthjustice and Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action have decided that GMOs are bad, so they’re busily drumming up fear, encouraging the gullible and ignorant to pester our politicians into imposing more regulations.
Though they’re targeting the seed crops, their actions affect a much broader swath of agriculture at a time when Hawaii is losing big independent farms, like Richard Ha’s Hamakua Springs, and its last sugar plantation.
Yet even as these anti- GMO activists assert that farm pesticides are harming islanders, they are curiously silent about the pest control and termite treatment companies that apply significantly more restricted-use pesticides than agriculture.
Why are they focusing so intently on agriculture, while ignoring other users, including homeowners who account for the overwhelming majority of pesticide poisonings?
Local residents and lawmakers need to understand that the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice are mainland-based groups that are using Hawaii to wage their national campaign against GMO crops. Both groups make money from suing federal agencies over GMOs and frightening people into sending them donations.
Though Center for Food Safety and the Hawai’i Alliance for Progressive Action claim grassroots support, tax returns indicate the bulk of their funding comes from mainland foundations, not local donors.
Campaign filings also show some anti-GMO candidates have received backing from real estate interests that stand to greatly benefit from the collapse of ag in the islands.
In short, these are self-perpetuating, self-interested advocacy groups. We cannot allow them to influence, much less direct, our agricultural policies.
With Hawaiian Commercial &Sugar Co. shutting down at the end of this year, leaving the future of its 36,000 acres in doubt, Hawaii agriculture is again at a major crossroads.
Legislative policies adopted now will affect its future viability. Restrictions imposed on big farms also impact the bottom line of struggling small farmers.
Like it or not, the seed companies are here, and they’re the No. 1 agricultural sector in the islands. They’re a primary source of skilled, well-paying farm jobs with benefits, and they’re helping to keep agriculture viable for the future by maintaining irrigation systems and other crucial infrastructure.
This is the time to be supporting all agriculture in Hawaii, rather than demonizing any segment of it.
We need to help all viable farms succeed. People have so many expectations of agriculture, yet it receives less than 1 percent of the state’s budget.
Hawaii legislators, most of whom live in urban areas and have little understanding of agriculture, must resist the political pressures exerted by these advocacy groups.
Lawmakers need to rely on farmers, the true experts, to help them make good policy decisions.
Far too much legislative time has been wasted on a manufactured controversy that has divided our community solely to benefit the coffers and agenda of mainland advocacy groups and political demagogues.
It’s time to set our priorities straight and boost, not bash, agriculture.