Archive for the ‘GMOs’ Category

Food fight

February 10th, 2016

The Hawaii Legislature is in full session as of Jan. 20, and once again, various lobbying groups are poised for a food fight.

Hawai‘i Center for Food Safety released the three-minute video above about the future of agriculture in Hawaii, with music composed by Makana. The organization, which published Pesticides in Paradise in May 2015, is advocating for mandatory public pesticide disclosure near schools and child care centers as well as no-spray buffer zones near certain populations and measures to protect pollinating bees in Hawaii.

Here's a quick look at the bills relating to food and farming this session:

>> H.B. 2574: Also known as the pesticide disclosure bill. Requires reporting guidelines for large-scale, outdoor commercial agricultural operations across Hawaii. Makes the state's voluntary pesticide disclosure program mandatory by establishing disclosure and public notification requirements for outdoor application of pesticides in various environmentally sensitive areas, including school grounds and nursing homes. Status: Passed second reading in the house.

>> H.B. 2564: Buffer zone bill. Establishes a no-spray buffer zone around schools and establishes a pilot program of native and regenerative vegetative buffer zones at five schools in the state. The Center supports this bill because, it says, there are at least 27 schools in Hawaii located within a mile of fields where agri-chemical companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemical spray restricted-use pesticides. Hearing held yesterday, Feb. 9.

>> H.B.1594: Calls for following the steps set forth by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to eliminate the use of neonicotinoid insecticides  on the statewide natural area reserves system to protect Hawaii's honeybees, native bees and other pollinators.

>> S.B. 2385: Seeks to ban sugar-sweetened beverages at child care facilities in Hawaii due to the fact that more than one in four kindergarteners in the state is overweight or obese and high rates of tooth decay. Research shows that healthy habits are formed in early childhood years. "It is in the best interest of Hawaii's children to set standards which ensure that healthy beverages are served in child care facilities."

>> S.B.2513: Appropriates funds to support three additional inspector positions within the Hawaii Department of Agriculture's pesticides branch on Oahu.

>> H.B.849: Called the Right to Farm bill, this bill seeks to block any local governments from passing laws, ordinances or resolutions that "abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural practices not prohibited by federal or state law, rules, or regulations." It's a direct response to a ballot initiative that Maui County residents voted for in November 2014, calling for a moratorium on genetically engineered crops until further study of its impacts on public health and environment. A federal judge invalidated the ordinance last year.

The bills can be tracked at

Related VIDEO:

Dr. Ryan Lee, pediatric neurologist at Shriner's Hospital for Children, testifying in support of a bill for a buffer zone last year

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Q&A: Ashley Lukens

June 8th, 2015



Ashley Lukens, program director of the Hawai‘i Center for Food Safety, did not initially set out to be part of the GMO fight in Hawaii. The former co-owner of Baby Awearness, a Manoa boutique selling reusable diapers and other products for eco-minded parents, focused her dissertation at the University of Hawaii at Manoa on food policy. It was entitled "Theorizing Food Justice: Critical Positionality and the Political Economy of Community Food Systems." She is also a founding member of the Hawaii Food Policy Council.

ashley_lukensBut she was working for another non-profit when the phone call from the center came, recruiting her to head up a Hawaii office. Little did she know at the time she would be stepping up to the plate in the battle for more regulations and transparency of GE crops in Hawaii.

The Washington D.C. based Center for Food Safety, a national non-profit public interest and environmental advocacy organization, was founded by public interest attorney Andrew Kimbrell 15 years ago. Though the Hawaii office just opened last April, the center played a role in the protest of kalo patents here nine years ago and is currently involved in the legal wranglings of GE regulation issues in three counties: Kauai, Hawaii and Maui.

"Pesticides in Paradise: Hawai‘i's Health & Environment At Risk," published in May, is a detailed review of the status of the GE crop field trials in Hawaii, as well as the use of pesticides in these field trials, and their impact on human and environmental health.

Among its key findings:

>> Since 1987, Hawaii has hosted more cumulative field trials — 3,243 — than any other state. Last year, 178 different GE field tests were conducted on more than 1,381 sites in Hawaii (compare this to only 175 sites in California). From 2007 to 2012, DuPont-Pioneer applied 90 different pesticide formulations containing 63 different active ingredients on Kauai.

>> The seed industry's footprint, at nearly 25,000 acres, is 72 percent of the total area planted to crops, other than sugarcane or pineapple. The majority of plants being tested are corn and soy, not niche crops such as papaya or banana. Over the past five years, the most frequently tested trait in GE crop field tests in Hawaii was herbicide-resistance.

>> Due to Hawaii's small size, it has a higher density of field tests than other states. More people in Hawaii live in closer proximity to field test sites, running a higher risk of experiencing pesticide drift.

The Green Leaf sat down for a conversation with Lukens.

Q: So you weren't interested initially interested in wading into the GMO debate in Hawaii?

A: I was not interested in the debate when it was couched as the papaya (debate), if GE papaya is safe to eat, and I wasn't interested in the labeling debate...I think we should label, as a mom. As owner of Baby Awearness, one of the things that was so overwhelmingly profound to me was the new sense of responsibility that parents felt for the health and safety of their kids, to the extent they were willing to radically change things about their lives. What Baby Awearness did was provide them with information they needed to make decisions. To me, that was the labeling conversation...

Q: What changed your mind?

A: So I meet this mom named Malia Chun, with two daughters. Her house shares a fenceline with one of these field (in Kekaha, Kauai). In three years, she's developed adult asthma and her daughters have chronic respiratory issues and nosebleeds. She's debating the prospect of sending her children to Waimea Canyon Middle School because that school's been evacuated three times (due to suspected incidents of pesticide drift)...I started to think, this isn't an issue about labeling, this is an environmental justice issue...

Q: Are GE crops and pesticides inextricably linked?

A: I think before Center for Food Safety entered the fray and tried to clarify the debate, it was about papaya, it was about what corn you could eat....This pesticide report emerges from my need to figure out what was going on...[The "Pesticides in Paradise" report] examines what's going on, where are these companies, what are they growing and what pesticides are they using? I wanted to know all the available data and also the gaps in the data...

Q: Where did you get the data?

A: Some of the information was released from the Pioneer dust class action suit (a federal court jury awarded $507,090 to 15 Waimea residents in May). You can dig into the data on a publicly available website reporting (U.S. Department of Agriculture) field trial permits every year, but it's not user-friendly...The first thing I learned was that Hawaii hosts more field trials than any other state in the nation...

And then we said, okay, what are the field trials for? Eighty-seven percent of the plants were being genetically engineered for herbicide tolerance.  This means that plants genetically engineered in Hawaii, by and large, are engineered to resist ever greater application of herbicides...So that to me really clarified that, in Hawaii, the issue of genetic engineering is not the issue of whether it's safe to eat, the issue is whether these plants are safe to develop and grow.

We're not simply growing deregulated GE corn varieties. The [seed] companies will often say, well these products have already been approved. They've been proven safe. They get exemptions because they're field trials. They are, by definition, experimental...Most of it is corn and soy...Who holds the most permits? Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta, Dow Chemical, Dupont-Pioneer....Only Kauai requires that companies report the pesticides they're spraying because of the victory of the community passing ordinance 960 [which in turn was struck down by a federal judge]. The mayor asked the companies to participate in a voluntary report and they did, so over the year I've been running the office we've been getting monthly reports [from the Kauai Good Neighbor Program].

Q: And what are the consequences for people who live here?

A: The other thing we found out is that Hawaii has a much higher population density than the states that are also hosting high volumes. And a lot of our communities live in agricultural spaces....With a cursory review of data, what was different about Hawaii was clear, the relationship between GEs and pesticides was clear. What exactly is the pesticide use, is where it becomes really scary because, by and large, we have no idea what these companies are doing...The second part of the report really digs into the pesticide use associated with GE field trials on Kauai and it makes an argument that disclosure is necessary statewide because we only have this data for Kauai.

Q: What was the most alarming finding?

A: The amount of chlorpyrifos these companies are using. Chlorpyrifos is a very well researched pesticide. One of the things these companies will say is you can't prove that the health problems in these communities are related to pesticide use...So I think it's the responsibility of the state to say, where else have these studies been done? Those studies already do exist...I think the science is clear and it is incumbent on the state to put protection measures in place for our kupuna and our children...

Q: What do you hope releasing this report to the public accomplishes?

A: At the end of the day, it's giving the public access to the information they need to be informed advocates. We need to be asking, what types of policy are we making? There's the larger question about what a state like Hawaii should be doing with its prime agricultural lands. This industry's expanding. We don't have the regulations on the books that respond to the ag practices of these companies. Our ag regulations were developed for sugar and pineapple...

We're increasingly food insecure, importing upwards of 85, 90 percent of our food annually. We need to be asking, as a state, what types of policies are we pursuing to ensure that we grow enough food to sustain our population?...Ag self sufficiency means the products that come off the farm in Hawaii feed Hawaii. [GE seed crops]  are an export-oriented industry. We need to ask ourselves, for our long-term economic sustainability, do we really want to be making GE seed crops the third leg of our economy? It seems foolish to me.

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EWG Guide on GE foods

February 20th, 2014


Star-Advertiser file photo.

Star-Advertiser file photo.

In a recent Star Advertiser-Hawaii News Now poll, three-quarters of voters interviewed want the state Legislature to pass a law requiring that all genetically modified organisms sold in Hawaii be labeled.

Yet only a quarter of voters were very familiar with GMOs. Still, consumers feel that they have a right to know.

Here's Monsanto's stance on labeling GE Foods — basically that it opposes mandatory labeling because "it could imply incorrectly that foods containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or organic counterparts."

If you're concerned, help is here.

The Environmental Working Group released a new shopping guide on Wednesday to help consumers figure out which supermarket foods likely contain genetically engineered ingredients.

According to the EWG, a non-profit based in Washington D.C., more than 60 other nations, including France, Germany, Japan, Russia, China and the United Kingdom require GE labeling. The U.S. government, however, does not require labeling of GE foods or ingredients.

EWG says while scientists have not determined whether GE food poses risks to human health, consumers have many good reasons to be concerned.

On its "Watch List" the EWG included:

>> Papaya. More than 75 percent of Hawaiian papaya is genetically engineered to resist the ringspot virus (Hawaiian Papaya Industry Association 2013).

>> Zucchini and yellow summer squash. A few varieties of squash are genetically engineered. Opt for organic varieties.

>> Sweet corn. Most sweet corn sold in supermarkets and farm stands is not grown from GE seeds, but a few varieties are. Buy organic sweet corn.

Four most common GE ingredients in food, according to EWG:

>> Field corn and corn-derived ingredients. Some 90 percent of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered. While most of it is cultivated for animal feed, about 12 percent is processed as corn flour, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, masa, corn meal and corn oil that end up in foods consumed by people (EPA 2013). Consumers should assume that those ingredients in processed foods are genetically engineered.

>> Soybeans and soybean-derived ingredients. The list would include soy proteins, soybean oil, soy milk, soy sauce, tofu or soy lecithin (unless certified organic or GE-free).

>> Sugar. About 55 percent of sugar produced in the U.S. comes from sugar beets, 95 percent of which have been genetically engineered (USDA 2013c). EWG says if a product label does not specify it has been made with "pure cane" sugar, chances are significant it contains GE beet sugar.

>> Vegetable oils. Consumers should assume that vegetable oil, canola oil, cottonseed, soybean and corn oils are genetically engineered.

Here are 5 Things you should know about GMOs, according to EWG. Here's a link to all of EWG's consumer guides.

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