Bleeding of Aloha: Ugliness of the anti-GMO movement in Hawaii

The last two years have been very tumultuous here in our state in regards to biotechnology. With a 12 month growing season, Hawaii is one of the great places for the large ag companies to run their breeding programs. With anti-GMO/anti-corporate ag sentiment on the rise, Hawaii has been the subject of the heavy hand of activism based in fear and misinformation. It hasn’t been pretty.

Here’s a summary of what’s happening across our state, county by county.

Last year, in the county of Kauai, the notorious anti-GMO bill to create buffer zones and disclosure for the spraying of pesticides was passed and then invalidated in federal court. This did not stop the mainland based SHAKA Movement from managing to garner some 9000 signatures to get an anti-GMO, anti-ag bill placed on the ballot in the county of Maui.

Maui County: GMO moratorium vote

mauiinitiative Despite many of the anti-GMO candidates losing in the primary election, groups like the Center for Food Safety are still working on stirring the pot in this county. Voters will get to decide on the issue on November 4. This has spurred the activists into some disturbing behaviors in our community here. There have been campaign signs vandalized and also stolen, which is not surprising at all.

Gubernatorial candidate, Duke Aiona, had his sign spray painted on Molokai.
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The ballot initiative signs on Molokai that asked voters to vote no were changed to “yes” votes.
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A vote no sign was taken and frame broken on private property of Christy Gusman.
Proud vandals on Instagram boasting their activities of re-doing the vote no signs on Maui.

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The activists have even resorted to defacing private property in the name of this movement. These are photos from the historic whaling town of Lahaina, where someone had some chemical fun with spray paint to get their message across.

These people who claim to malama the aina or “care for the land” and be pono, or “righteous”, apparently forget these thoughts as they go about “campaigning”. The sad thing is that long time local folks, like this 90 year old senior citizen, wind up cleaning up their messes.

Screenshot 2014-10-13 19.37.21 Not only was there graffiti and theft going on in Maui, Molokai and Lanai, but there were also reports of people being harassed by activists at the County Fair, who were pushing their brochures at people as they entered the fair, pressuring them to vote yes on the ballot initiative. How do I know that? My mom experienced it first hand at the fair. She had brochure shoved into her chest as she entered. She then proceeded to give that activist a piece of her mind.

Someone also took out a Craigslist post against Monsanto, as well. They took images of Monsanto workers and their families, and posted them as an ad to target the employees for harassment. (The ad was flagged and eventually removed.)

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Screenshot 2014-10-13 21.31.59Not only did they put out bogus ads to harass the biotech workers, fake profiles were also made of workers. Their images were stolen and then the harassers turned their names into heinous versions instead. Above you can see that someone took the profile picture of a biotech employee and used it to comment on the social media as the “Earthly Farmer”. (This is the same tactic done by the anti-GMO activists on Kauai!)

These SHAKA activists also took to Photoshopping biotech employees into demons for anti-GMO posters. Just look what they did to Dave Stoltzfus.

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What has been missing in considering  this initiative in Maui County has been recognizing the economics of a “temporary moratorium” to study the effects of GMOs and considering the economic impact a moratorium could have on those islands. A well known economics expert, Paul Brewbaker, was recently hired by the Maui Chamber of Commerce to study the effects of this proposed initiative there. What he found was that it would be devastating to this county, which is no surprise. It would hurt many local families. It’s estimated that unemployment may rise to some 25% on Molokai alone!

Story here: Hawaii News Now – KGMB and KHNL The anti-GMO activists sent their biology bachelor of science degree, newly minted “economic expert” State Senator Russell Ruderman, to supposedly debunk Dr. Brewbaker’s study. He did not disclose that he owns four natural health food stores on the Big Island and has no expertise in economics. He’s the same state senator that published articles in the Big Island newspaper “educating” people on Bt. This man is always overstepping his scope of expertise, which is typical of many anti-GMO activists. Just take a listen to the claims he makes on the morning news. The activists also decided to attack the Maui United Way because of the name they chose for themselves: Maui United. The MUW wanted to avoid confusion due to the similarities of the name and sent a cease and desist order for use of the name. These nasty folks tried to play the 6 degrees of separation and trashed the MUW for accepting a donation from Monsanto. mauiunitedwayYou can see the MUW president’s response in the photo just above. Maui County is definitely an ugly place at this moment with this heated debate between those versed in science and those who prefer to reject the evidence.  

Kauai: Remnants of the ugly storm linger

Kauai was definitely the poster child of a dysfunctional community last year with the entire anti-GMO movement centered there. Key county council members wanted to pass their flawed Bill 2491, regardless of its validity. That set off a firestorm of discord. As expected, the Federal Court recently invalidated the law. As expected, that didn’t end the vitriol. None of the studies or evidence collected (Final_Report_Kauai_Air__3_15_2013_submitted-2) to refute the claims being made were ever considered by the activists. The constant battle cry there is “stop the poisoning”, a battle cry unsupported by the evidence. The story there is one of manipulation by the mainland funded Hawaii SEED and key leaders in the community. The county has decided to appeal the bill and continue to drain the funds to push this faulty law through. It’s of no surprise that in the primary election, the top vote getters were not the anti-GMO candidates, but the pro-ag supporters. Despite the claims by the anti-GMO crowd of speaking for the majority, the are in fact just a vocal and active minority, with no broad base of support. They are wearing out their welcome. The pro-ag candidates that did receive majority votes were the target of vandalism. This is unfortunate,  but once again, not surprising. The vitriol has also spilled out into the community in public places with the activists’ graffiti of “stop the poisoning” sprayed all over the place. Once again, they have fun with chemicals in the form spray paint with no regard for the environment or for others.

Related article:  At National Academy of Sciences, GMO critics say technology is "failing"
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Kauai County Council Member candidate, Arryl Kaneshiro, had his banner slashed. His family are long time farmers on Kauai and pro-agriculture, which made him a target of the anti-GMO activists.
Another candidate for the county council, Arthur Brun, has his sign vandalized also. He is also an employee at a seed company, Syngenta.
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This is what tourists and other visitors get to see when they stop by the historic menehune fishpond.

 barcasign Signs on utility poles are against the law for safety reasons but MMA fighter mayoral candidate Dustin Barca apparently has no regard for this law. He and his followers are demanding others follow their laws, but can’t even follow the laws in existence already. He has his election signs up on public utility poles and on county owned lifeguard shacks.

A bumper sticker is vandalism on public property but following the law means nothing to this mayoral candidate.

Then there is Kauai County Council Member, Tim Bynum, showing his lack of emotional control and maturity at public meetings. He has tried to initiate more anti-ag laws here and seems to be losing it when others don’t seem to agree with this tactic.  //
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The damage to Kauai’s community is done and it’s clear that it isn’t going to be changing any time soon with these types of leaders in office. The community remains divided and the ugliness is still evident.

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Oahu: What the North Shore drags up

The latest fiasco with the anti-GMO movement ends with Oahu and the North Shore Neighborhood Board meeting last month. My dad and brother attened and from what they told me, the meeting was dominated by the anti-GMO activists. Ashley Lukens, The Center for Food Safety’s director was also there to stir the pot even further with her lofty agenda. The activists were dictating to the community how they wanted farmers to farm despite not being farmers themselves. There were only two farmers brave enough to speak up. The vitriol in the room was so bad that the resolution was withdrawn.

At yet another meeting, a week after the regular board meeting, the North Shore Neighborhood Board Ag committee met to amend the resolution that was discussed prior based on the testimony received. There were about 30-40 activists there who were very rude and hostile and accused the chair of being “a Monsanto lobbyist and having a conflict of interest because she worked for the Chamber of Commerce.” The Chamber receives membership dues and donations from Monsanto as they from 225 other members. The NS Chamber is a 501 c3 and cannot lobby which was clearly explained to everyone in attendance there. A committee member made a motion to kill the resolution and eventually it was seconded and passed, unfortunately. The baby was thrown out with the bathwater. Even an anti-GMO supporter felt that their supporters were rude.

Activists have become the loudest voices there, but won’t allow any type of discussion on this issue. According to one member of the chamber:

“I was verbally assaulted by an anti GMO guy about the corporate brick for Monsanto in our walkway a year or two ago, which was a fundraiser to restore the Haleiwa Mutual Telephone Exhange Building, the North Shore Chamber’s home and North Shore Visitor Center. Within a week the brick was gone/stolen. The anti GMO folks were also very rude and hostile at the recent NS Neighborhood Board Ag Committee meeting, making a personal attack on me, accusing me of being a Monsanto lobbyist and having a conflict of interest.”

Other examples of obnoxious things that these activists do include these immature behaviors:

Also at the Haleiwa Town Christmas Parade the last two years, which the Chamber sponsors/organizes, they have dressed up in hazmat suits and inserted themselves into the parade between Monsanto’s monster tractor and a cub scout troop, probably scaring the kids.

Candidate signs have also been reported stolen, and it isn’t a surprise that the person who is losing them is a pro-ag supporter. Kent Fonoimoana, who is running for the House of Representatives in District 47, banned me from his campaign page for questioning his support of the GMO label and pointing out his alliances with the Sierra Club and Earthjustice. He even requested a tour of my dad’s farm only to later that that he’d support farmers but still wanted a state law to label GMOs. This guy is so disingenuous that I’m not surprised that his allies, the anti-GMO activists, have decided to steal signs from people’s yards. If they have done it elsewhere, it’s pretty likely the same bunch of people.

Big Island: Ugliness remains

As the court hearing for the anti-GMO Bill 113 is awaiting judgment, the same pattern of ugliness is occurring on the Big Island. The contentious race is between a newcomer, Ron Gonsalves and Monsanto obsessed Margaret Wille, a sitting Big Island county council member. Gonsalves has had signs go missing and recently had a sign damaged. It’s all too clear that this is the same work, over and over again, by the same activists across our islands.


Even with the devastation of Hurricane Iselle, the activists didn’t give up their anti-aloha behaviors, disrupting rallies that were there to provide information to farmers. They were not there to help these farmers, rather there to harass them instead.

Aloha: Redefined by activism is ugly

Our state was known as the Aloha state and I’m really starting to wonder if that is what we really remain. From the looks of our communities, it looks as if there is a new brand of aloha being cultivated here and personally, I don’t like it at all. We will never move forward if only attacks and fear are perpetuated in our communities. I hope voters make it loud and clear to these “leaders” that this is not our future.

Joni Kamiya-Rose is a farmer’s daughter, health professional, wife and mother. She grew up on a papaya farm in Hawaii and blogs at Hawaii Farmer’s Daughter. Follow her on @HIFarmersDtr

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