The small Hawaiian island of Kauai is home to white sand beaches, beautiful coral reefs, tropical rainforests, and more genetic crop experimentation than anywhere else in the world (Sutton, 2014). This past summer, a federal judge ruled invalid a Kauai County law requiring companies to disclose their use of pesticides and genetically modified crops. The law would have also required companies using large amounts of pesticides to establish buffer zones in sensitive areas such as hospitals and schools. For instance, a 500-foot buffer zone would be required between a school and crops sprayed by large amounts of pesticides.
The lawsuit was Syngenta Seeds, DuPont Pioneer, Agrigenetics Inc (Dow AgroSciences) and BASF Plant Sciences versus a variety of community groups of Kauai, and as we see so often in cases like this, the wealth of the corporations prevailed. Large food and seed companies often fight this type of legislation focused on increasing the consumer’s knowledge about exactly how their food is grown and what chemicals are used. Legislation of this kind is often fought because many company officials believe these laws exceed governmental authority. Additionally, they believe that enforcing these laws places “burdensome and baseless restrictions” on farming businesses (Bunge, 2014).
Although the debate regarding the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is still ongoing, many pesticides used in conjunction with GMOs have proven, harmful effects on both human and environmental health (Sutton, 2014). Crossbreeding of GMO plants with non-GMO plants is just one concern. Pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, are primary sources of pollination and plant reproduction, but does a bee know the difference between a non-GMO tomato and a GMO tomato? Insects pollinate 90% of the world’s plant species, and bees, which are responsible for most of this pollination, also pollinate about 75% of our agricultural crops (Winfree, 2010). Furthermore, Food and Drug Administration scientists believe that GMO foods can create unpredictable and hard to predict side effects such as food allergies, toxins, and nutritional problems (Institute for Responsible Technology, 2012).
The law was never meant to unfairly target the seed, as many of the corporations involved in the lawsuit suggested (Kelleher, 2014), but was designed to protect farmers, workers, and families from potentially hazardous pesticides and practices. Farming practices in Kauai should be compliant with practices that don’t harm the people living there or their environment.
It is diversity, not monocultures with genetically modified crops coated in pesticides that make a healthy ecosystem. In order to restore our landscapes and watersheds, practices such as crop rotation, permaculture, agroforestry, and composting need to be adopted. Kauai, although a small island in the Pacific Ocean, serves as a seed for the discussion of sustainable food policies that address the safety of people, the environment and food security.
What can be learned from this lawsuit in Kauai is that much like there are limitations to the land in Kauai, there are limitations to the earth. We are all confined to the same planet and it is time we start working together for the people and the land rather than just a few multimillion- dollar corporations. Remember, every time we make a purchase at the supermarket, we are voting for the type of food system we support. We are what we eat and it’s up to us whether we want to be a society built on natural and sustainable food or one built on artificial food, and large monocultures coated in pesticides—the choice is ours.
Bunge, Jacob. “U.S. Judge Overturns GMO Crop Curbs in Hawaii.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 25 Aug. 2014. Web. 3 Nov. 2014. <http://online.wsj.com/articles/u-s-judge-overturns-gmo-crop-curbs-in-hawaii-1409009260>.
Fox, Chloe. “Federal Judge: Kauai’s GMO Law Is Invalid.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 Aug. 2014. Web. 3 Nov. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/25/kauai-gmo-law-invalid_n_5711387.html>.
“Health Risks.” Institute for Responsible Technology. 1 Jan. 2012. Web. 3 Nov. 2014. <http://www.responsibletechnology.org/health-risks>.
Sutton, Cyrus. “Island Earth- Documentary.” Kickstarter. 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 3 Nov. 2014. <https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cyrussutton/island-earth-documentary>.