On the normally placid main street on Sunday afternoon, thousands of people marched in protest. As they snaked down Rice Street, toward the Kauai County Building, they chanted, “No More GMO! No More GMO!”
Much of the symbolism was colorful, even a bit carnival-esque, but grim. People wore masks with skulls. One man carried a pitch fork. As the breeze tussled numerous Hawaiian flags, signs lurched into the sky to scream, “Too Much Poison!”
Despite the underlying anger, the protestors were actually there to be constructive. That was as clear as the writing on their ubiquitous red shirts: “Pass the Bill.”
The thousands of people at the “Mana March” — organizers put the number at 3,000 or 4,000 — were here to promote passage of Bill 2491. Introduced by Kauai County Councilmen Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum, the measure requires that the four biotech companies operating on Kauai — Syngenta, DuPont-Pioneer, Dow and BASF — disclose what pesticides they are spraying, where and in what quantities. The bill also requires buffer zones between biotech fields and public areas, including schools, parks, roads and waterways.
The debate over GMOs surged in intensity in Hawaii during the last legislative session with a state bill that aimed to require labeling of genetically modified foods, at least until that bill died. But the torch has since been picked up at the county level on both the Big Island and Kauai.
A wide array of issues drives the fight on the anti-GMO side. There are heart-felt concerns about the safety of consuming genetically altered foods. Some people question the validity of studies on the risks of consuming GMOs, especially over the long term. Critics also highlight precedents for seeds from GMO crops drifting into organic and conventional fields, with some decrying what they see as corporate greed by biotech companies and their supposed control of the world’s food supply.
But the fight has taken a particularly serious tone on Kauai where residents, schoolchildren and teachers on the island’s west side have worried for years that the pesticides being sprayed on GMO fields are harming their health and poisoning the environment around them.