GMO LABELING BILL BACK?
I always laugh whenever I hear someone call President Barack Obama a “socialist.” Or even just a “liberal.” Ha! If he were a liberal or even a godless socialist, Obama would never have adopted agribusiness’ opposition to labeling all food products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as though it were his very own. He would never have appointed former Monsanto officials to the Department of Agriculture, and he never would have directed his functionaries in the federal government to approve every new GMO fruit or vegetable or fish or cat or whatever that comes out of the laboratory.
Since Obama isn’t a socialist, it’s up to the state and even local governments–to say nothing of regular citizens–to pass laws aimed at bringing some measure of truth in advertising to grocery store shelves. An attempt during the last session of Hawaii’s state Legislature failed to move a bill mandating GMO labeling (HB 1534), but there’s a new move afoot locally to try again.
As yet the proposed bill has no number, but it stipulates that “no food or raw agricultural commodity shall be sold in the State if it contains a genetically engineered material, or was produced with a genetically engineered material, unless it bears a label that provides the following disclosure notice in bold-face print and not less than ten-point type: ‘THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS A GENETICALLY ENGINEERED MATERIAL, OR WAS PRODUCED WITH A GENETICALLY ENGINEERED MATERIAL.’”
Labeling of GMO products is mandatory and widespread in Europe, but unknown in the U.S. Given the political contributions that GMO producers like Monsanto dole out to Republicans and Democrats, it’s a solid bet a national GMO labeling bill will be a tough sell.
The push on Maui for such a law is coming mainly from two people: Ramoda Anand, a private citizen most known for his work with Maui Dance Advocates, and Maui County Council member Elle Cochrane, who has introduced a resolution asking the county council to include the above bill in its 2012 Hawaii State Association of Counties Legislative Package.
“There are laws put in place that require the labeling of ingredients and nutritional information on every item that is purchased in a grocery store, to protect people from having allergic reactions to food,” Cochrane wrote in the Sept. 29, 2011 issue of the Lahaina News. “Organic foods label their products; I do not feel that GMO products should be handled any differently. No matter where you stand on the issue of how our food is produced, it is indisputable that the freedom of choice should be available to every consumer.”
Given the power that agribusiness holds in Hawaii (Monsanto grows GMO seed corn in Kihei, for instance), it’s not likely a new GMO labeling bill will get further than last year’s effort. Still, the whole matter comes up for discussion at the Oct. 7 Maui County Council meeting.
And those who want some action a little more interesting than a county council meeting can just meet up at Monsanto’s Kihei operation for an old fashioned protest. At about 9am on Oct. 16 (Yes, it’s a Sunday), anti-GMO activists will rally at at the intersection of Kanani Road. and Piilani Highway in Kihei as part of World Food Day. They will, according to a statement put out moments ago by Brian Lehman, support a GMO food labeling bill as well as “call on Monsanto to end the illusion of GMOs feeding the world; to end open field testing of GMOs; and to stop its use of arable lands for seed crops with which to exploit farmers worldwide with patented seeds.”
ABERCROMBIE’S FISH FARM FLIP-FLOP FILES FOUND!
And now for an update to a story we reported on a few months ago. On July 12, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed SB 1511 into law. The signing did two things: first, it expanded leases for factory fish farms in Hawaiian waters from an already too-long 35 years to an unprecedented 65 years; second, it outraged activist groups (who hate factory-scale fish farming because it exposes sea life to disease and uses vast quantities of pesticides and other toxins) which had been convinced (by Abercrombie, no less) just a couple weeks earlier that he would veto the bill (see Mauitime’s “Fish Tale” in our July 21, 2011 issue for more info).
Why Abercrombie reversed himself has been somewhat of a mystery. When I asked Donalyn Dela Cruz, his spokesperson, why the flip-flop, she reacted somewhat coldly. “He took a closer look at it,” she said. “There were more discussions and he had some meetings.”
There the tale would have ended were it not for Washington DC-based Food & Water Watch. Last week the activist group released a PDF of notes, letters and other documents related to SB 1511 that the group obtained from Abercrombie’s office through the state’s open records act. While the documents lack any sort of “smoking gun” that would explain Abercrombie’s reversal, they do provide fascinating context to the fight over SB 1511.
“We were shocked when Governor Abercrombie publicly denounced factory fish farming only to come out in support of it weeks later,” said Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter in a Sept. 29 email. “Now we know that industry influence played no small part.”
The most interesting item unearthed is a July 4, 2011 letter from aquaculture advocate John S. Corbin to Abercrombie supporting SB 1511 and bashing Food & Water Watch. “They use misinformation and pseudo-science, as well as internet activism techniques like mass form e-mails usually from persons who don’t study the issue, to manipulate rather than inform public opinion,” Corbin wrote. “Food and Water Watch supports small scale aquaculture and Hawaiian fishponds, which while worthwhile, will contribute little to Hawaii’s seafood deficit.”
Meeting notes unearthed by FWW include vague but still disturbing information. During a June 28, 2011 meeting, one unnamed participant noted that, “DLNR can pull [the] lease from bad actors,” but then added the caveat “assuming we have resources.” At a July 7, 2011 meeting, someone noted that “Once you go to private financing, other considerations like quick profit take over.”
For FWW’s Hauter, the notes, letters and other documents show the power and influence of factory-scale aquaculture.
“It is clear from the factory fish farming industry’s meetings with Governor Abercrombie that the industry was pushing for longer leases to obtain more public financing, meaning that taxpayers would have to finance these private ventures which have failed to prove their economic viability time and again,” Hauter said in her Sept. 29 email. “That the governor caved to pressure from offshore fish farming corporations in the face of such strong public opposition is reprehensible.”