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Don’t Cry For Us, Argentina

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Maui Vision Magazine.

We want to applaud your court system now that one of your judges ruled to allow a class action lawsuit to proceed – a suit that demands a ban on the cultivation of GMO plants and the pesticides used with them. Here on Maui, we took a more modest approach, asking for a temporary moratorium until studies prove biotech systems are not harming our lands and people.

Your suit was filed on behalf of a child who died from pesticide poisoning, as well as other children diagnosed with leukemia. It asks your government to suspend open air release of GMOs. Your legal language, echoing the tone of the SHAKA Movement ordinance passed by citizens of Maui County late last year, calls for “a ban on the application of pesticides used for farming until their safety for the environment, ecosystems, biodiversity, the health of living beings, the cultural heritage of the Argentine people, and the sustainability of the production model is scientifically proven.” Right on!

May we suggest you prepare to deal with a battalion of Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, et al. attorneys who will try to narrow the scope of the legal argument to technicalities that have nothing to do with the diseases and deaths at the heart of your case?

That’s what happened here in Hawaii. On Maui, Monsanto got support from county officials who chose to cooperate with seed industry attorneys instead of defending the will of 23,000 voters. How? When industry attorneys proposed moving our case from state to federal court, our county’s attorneys didn’t object.

Then two federal judges failed to consider the health concerns at the center of SHAKA’s case. Instead, they ruled that counties don’t have the right to protect the public’s health and environment, even though our state constitution says otherwise.

The errors in the judge’s ruling are so egregious that SHAKA Movement attorneys already have the case on a fast track to an appeals court in San Francisco. Two similar Hawaii cases are on appeal to the same court, putting Hawaii at the center of the GMO battle in the U.S.

The Argentine lawsuit also urges your Legislature to pass a biosafety law, set minimum soil resource standards, and to order the rebuilding and repair of environmental damage caused by GMO farming methods. The remediation would be accomplished through the reintroduction of non-GMO cultivars and wild species, and the rebuilding of soil. If these measures are not possible, the lawsuit requires that the companies be ordered to pay compensation. Bravo, and best of luck.

Because colonial/plantation forces destroyed the existing Hawaiian polyculture 150 years ago when the sugar barons overthrew the Kingdom, we too must rebuild and restore our depleted and contaminated soil. We cannot expect the heirs of the exploiters to do this for us. So a new generation of farmers has stepped forward to join native Hawaiian growers to do just that.

This movement has been developing for 30 years, and now we have hundreds of organic farmers, seed exchanges, training programs, farmers’ markets, value-added cottage industries, and soil restoration programs working to revitalize exhausted land.

We have been fortunate to have visionary activists who have traveled, learned, and brought back great teachers. Our native growers have shared their traditional methods wisdom so that the Maui Farmers Union United now has two thriving chapters – a positive force to help transition to growing more of our food, rather than importing it. We know the Hawaiians lived and thrived here for a thousand years!

As the public has become aware of the extreme dangers of industrial/chemical food production, a back to basics farm movement is sweeping the country. As ground zero for GMOs, Hawaii’s outer islands share a similar fate. So we must protect our air, water and ocean, and work towards a common sustainable future.

We are fortunate to have home-grown ‘solutionaries’ with clear plans for carbon capture, soil building, getting healthy foods into our schools, and helping our citizens grow more food for their families.

Inasmuch as a two degree centigrade rise is now considered unavoidable, we should all consider what that translates to in sea level rise and plan accordingly.

Want to stop worrying and start planting? Join a MFUU chapter near you: mauifarmershaleakala.com.

Mark Sheehan is a real estate broker (realestatemaui.com), SHAKA and Maui Tomorrow board member, and farm owner (hapimaui.org). Email mark@marksheehan.com.

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