Hawaii 'grassroots' anti-GMO rebellion run by Washington-based Center for Food Safety

On the 11th floor of the Gold Bond Building, on the edge downtown Honolulu, is the brain trust of Hawaii’s anti-GMO movement. The Center for Food Safety opened a new field office here on April 16, saying it wanted to foster public support to end irresponsible pesticide use and genetic experimentation on seed crops on the islands.

The Center for Food Safety is a well-funded nonprofit that spends millions of dollars on litigation, community outreach and politics to support organic and sustainable agricultural practices. It opposes GMOs, pesticides and other technologies that it worries might be harmful to humans or the environment. At a national level, the center lobbies for labeling GMO foods and pushes federal agencies for tighter controls on what products make it to grocery store shelves and which chemicals can be sprayed on crops. It supports maintaining seed biodiversity, protecting pollinators from pesticides and taking on inhumane animal processing practices.

Now the Center for Food Safety is focusing its attention on the Aloha State, where the debate over GMOs and pesticide use has galvanized the community, from the papaya farms on the Big Island to the hallways of the Hawaii State Capitol.

The nonprofit’s escalation has buoyed the anti-GMO movement like never before. But it’s the center’s decision to open up an office in Hawaii that has the biotech industry on high alert. That shows a level of commitment that some say won’t dissipate until the corporate seed industry packs up and leaves the islands.

“It’s a very real threat and it certainly is something that can happen,” said Mark Phillipson, a Syngenta executive who is also president of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association. “Unfortunately, I think if it does happen it’s due to misinformation and people not knowing really both sides of the story and voting on something out of fear rather than out of facts.”

And while Phillipson says the Center for Food Safety doesn’t necessarily up the stakes of the political game — they’ve always been high — he worries that whatever middle ground there was for compromise will disappear. “I don’t think the Center for Food Safety is here to let agricultural biotechnology flourish and prosper,” he said.

But the center’s involvement in Hawaii and elsewhere has drawn its share of critics. The latest barbs question the Center for Food Safety’s true motives in the GMO movement. Critics say the big donors that funnel cash to the nonprofit have their own business interests at stake and too much influence over the center's actions. Those aligned with the biotech industry say that groups like the Center for Food Safety are lining up with wealthy donors, who want to promote the growing organics and natural foods industry, to influence legislation that would lead to a larger market share.

Jon Entine, founder of the Genetic Literacy Project, takes it one step farther. He’s even more skeptical of anti-GMO activists who label themselves as the underdog when they’re the beneficiaries of multimillion dollar foundations, some of which have direct ties to the organics foods industry that in 2013 reached sales of over $35 billion.

Entine, whose Genetic Literacy Project aims to promote the science behind GMO research, has attempted to document where various grassroots causes in Hawaii get their funding. Last year he launched his own investigation into the topic, which he later published in a pair of scathing online commentaries.

“Let’s be clear,” Entine told Civil Beat. “This is an industry versus industry battle.” At least the biotech companies have easily identifiable sources of funding, he said.

Read the full, original article: Taking Root: A Rising Voice in Hawaii's GMO Politics

 

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