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Planet Waves
The Poisoning of Paradise

The state of Hawai'i is famous for its stunning natural beauty -- but you probably did not know that it's also the "genetic engineering experimental capital of the world," according to the environmental organization Hawai'i Seed, with thousands of acres held by the Big Six biotech companies: Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, BASF, Pioneer and Bayer.

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Kauai in particular is the locus of this testing, where five companies are using 99% of Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs), said Gary Hooser of the Kauai County Council. "The GMO companies apply approximately 18 tons of over 22 different types of highly restricted chemicals every year to their fields all over our island. These chemicals have warning labels that sometimes exceed 100 pages and many are banned in Europe and elsewhere in the world."

Earlier in the year, Hooser introduced Bill 2491, to require mandatory disclosure of pesticide and GMO use by the biotech companies -- which deny their use -- and require a buffer zone around schools, hospitals and other sensitive areas. Other provisions include prohibition of open-air testing of experimental pesticides and experimental GMOs, and establishing a temporary moratorium on new GMO operations pending the results of an environmental impact statement and development of a permitting system.

"The heart of Bill 2491 is the 'right to know.' Kauai's people have the right to know what pesticides are being used in very large quantities and what experimental pesticides and experimental genetically modified organisms are being used in our county," Hooser said.

The biotechs are fighting back, promising a legal battle if the bill passes as written, and citizens of the island are divided, with some concerned how this bill will affect small farmers. In light of this, on Monday the council's Economic Development Committee deferred Bill 2491 to Sept. 9 to wait for an opinion from the attorney general.

"Bill 2491 in its approach is devastating and fracturing our island -- it's unraveling the fabric of our community," said local resident Susan Tai Kaneko, a former educator and community-building specialist who works for Syngenta.

"People are insulting and verbally attacking one another, even threatening bodily harm and death," she said.

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