Friday, August 19, 2022
Hawai'i Free Press

Current Articles | Archives

Saturday, February 7, 2015
Hawaii Polarized by Steamroller Activism
By Selected News Articles @ 12:33 PM :: 5254 Views :: GMOs

Hawaii Polarized by Steamroller Activism

by Joan Conrow, Cornell Alliance for Science, February 2, 2015

Though Hawaii is known as the “aloha state,” we have our share of scrappy fights over development, tourism and Native Hawaiian rights.  Still, no issue has polarized the Islands more thoroughly in modern times than the cultivation of genetically engineered crops.

Hawaii, with its idyllic year-round growing season, has long been a source for hybrid seeds. In the past two decades, agrochemical companies like DuPont-Pioneer, Monsanto, BASF and DOW have greatly expanded operations in the Islands, testing and raising biotech and conventional crops on thousands of acres left fallow by the demise of sugar cane and pineapple.

Seeds are now the most valuable agricultural crop in Hawaii, and farmers also raise a variety of papaya genetically engineered to resist the ringspot virus that nearly destroyed commercial production in the 1990s.

Yet aside from isolated citizen complaints about field dust, and a bid to halt genetic engineering of native Hawaiian taro varieties, the seed crops drew little attention and GMOs were essentially a non-issue.

Everything changed in January 2013 when mainland-based advocacy groups, including Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice, began a campaign to use the Islands as a testing ground for laws regulating biotech crops.

In the two years that followed, those of us living in tiny rural towns on Kauai, Maui, Molokai and the Big Island experienced a type of steamroller activism unlike any our small, tight-knit communities had previously encountered.  Social media produced a relentless stream of memes and posts that viciously vilified seed company executives, field workers, conventional farmers, scientists and anyone who supported biotech, while amplifying and even fabricating health risks associated with pesticides and GE foods.

The steady drumbeat of fear had its desired effect.  People living near fields that had produced sugar and pineapple for decades suddenly began claiming that the seed companies were ruining their health and poisoning the land. Some citizens and politicians accepted these allegations as fact, though their scientific basis was slim to non-existent. No fact-finding process was conducted to assess the existence or extent of a public or environmental health problem.

Meanwhile, the climate of intimidation and retribution, reinforced by marches, extensive graffiti, unruly County Council meetings and the destruction of papaya crops, effectively stymied opposition and dissent. Citizens — some of them culturally adverse to conflict, others afraid of being targeted by activists — became increasingly reluctant to speak against or question the movement and its tactics.

The old dividing lines of race and length of residency were redrawn as “locals” — those born and raised in Hawaii — squared off against activists, many of them white newcomers. Communities and families were split apart by the contentious debate, which allowed no middle ground, no compromise, none of the give and take that characterizes true aloha.

In this social and political environment, which a longtime Kauai farmer aptly described as “toxic,” elected officials on two islands and voters on a third passed laws regulating and even banning GE crops. A federal judge already has struck down two of the ordinances, ruling that state authority over pesticides and GE crops preempts county laws. The third initiative is still pending before a state judge.  It is expected to meet a similar fate.

Despite the legal setbacks, Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice show no sign of withdrawing as they continue to coordinate anti-GMO campaigns and fund lawsuits. A recent press release from CFS seeking support for an appeal of the Hawaii County ruling stated:

"The outcome of this case could affect all U.S. counties, because it is the first legal challenge to a county law of this kind."

In short, anti-biotech groups are trying to establish case law in isolated, rural municipalities like Hawaii, where gullible politicians and puzzled citizens are easily manipulated and misled by fear tactics, bullying and vague talking points like “home rule."

While advocacy organizations may feel this strategy is useful, their fight has taken a heavy toll on those of us living in the war zones they orchestrated. Eventually, they'll move on to other battlefields, leaving residents of small-town Hawaii polarized, our communities fractured, old friendships torn apart, concerns still unaddressed and no process for healing in sight.


Joan Conrow is an award-winning independent journalist who writes frequently about politics, the environment and travel. Her work has appeared in many national and regional publications. She's lived on Kauai since 1987 and has covered the biotech issue in Hawaii for more than a decade. She also publishes the popular Kauai Eclectic blog.


TEXT "follow HawaiiFreePress" to 40404

Register to Vote


808 Silent Majority

ACA Signups Hawaii

Alliance Defending Freedom

Aloha Pregnancy Care Center

American Council of Trustees and Alumni


Antonio Gramsci Reading List

A Place for Women in Waipio

Astronomy Hawaii

Back da Blue Hawaii

Ballotpedia Hawaii

Better Hawaii

Broken Trust

Build More Hawaiian Homes Working Group

Christian Homeschoolers of Hawaii

Cliff Slater's Second Opinion

DVids Hawaii


Fix Oahu!

Frontline: The Fixers

Genetic Literacy Project

Grassroot Institute

Hawaii Aquarium Fish Report

Hawaii Aviation Preservation Society

Hawaii Catholic TV

Hawaii Christian Coalition

Hawaii Cigar Association

Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling

Hawaii ConCon Info

Hawaii Credit Union Watch

Hawaii Crop Improvement Association

Hawaii Debt Clock

Hawaii Defense Foundation

Hawaii Family Advocates

Hawaii Family Forum

Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United

Hawaii Farmer's Daughter

Hawaii Federalist Society

Hawaii Federation of Republican Women

Hawaii Future Project

Hawaii Gathering of Eagles

Hawaii History Blog

Hawaii Homeschool Association

Hawaii Jihadi Trial

Hawaii Legal News

Hawaii Legal Short-Term Rental Alliance

Hawaii Life Alliance

Hawaii March for Life

Hawaii's Partnership for Appropriate & Compassionate Care

Hawaii Public Charter School Network

Hawaii Rifle Association

Hawaii Shippers Council

Hawaii Smokers Alliance

Hawaii State Data Lab

Hawaii Together



Hiram Fong Papers

Homeschool Legal Defense Hawaii

Honolulu Navy League

Honolulu Traffic

House Minority Blog

Imua TMT

Inouye-Kwock, NYT 1992

Inside the Nature Conservancy

Inverse Condemnation

Investigative Project on Terrorism

July 4 in Hawaii

Kakaako Cares

Keep Hawaii's Heroes

Land and Power in Hawaii

Legislative Committee Analysis Tool

Lessons in Firearm Education

Lingle Years

Malulani Foundation

Managed Care Matters -- Hawaii

Malama Pregnancy Center of Maui

Mauna Kea Recreational Users Group

Military Home Educators' Network Oahu

Missile Defense Advocacy

MIS Veterans Hawaii

NAMI Hawaii

National Christian Foundation Hawaii

National Parents Org Hawaii

NFIB Hawaii News

No GMO Means No Aloha

Not Dead Yet, Hawaii

NRA-ILA Hawaii

Oahu Alternative Transport


OHA Lies

Opt Out Today

Patients Rights Council Hawaii

PEACE Hawaii

People vs Machine

Pritchett Cartoons

Pro-GMO Hawaii


Rental by Owner Awareness Assn

ReRoute the Rail

Research Institute for Hawaii USA

Rick Hamada Show

RJ Rummel

Robotics Organizing Committee

Save Dillingham Airfield

School Choice in Hawaii

Sink the Jones Act

Statehood for Guam

Talking Tax

Tax Foundation of Hawaii

The Real Hanabusa

Time Out Honolulu

Trustee Akina KWO Columns

UCC Truths

US Tax Foundation Hawaii Info

VAREP Honolulu

West Maui Taxpayers Association

What Natalie Thinks

Whole Life Hawaii