The Biotech Industry vs. The World - David & Goliath Week


Nicole Stinson

Photo by John Novotny.

Our world has been plagued by wars but one that has managed to slip largely under the radar is the agricultural battle against genetic modification and pesticides. Amongst the many international locations of recent contentions, one local area that has addressed such issues is the island of Kauai, Hawaii.

Several agricultural biotechnology giants have set up fields around Kauai, where they douse crops with loads of mysterious pesticide cocktails. In response, Kauai’s local city council passed Bill 2491, making it illegal to spray pesticides near schools and nursing homes, and requiring parties to disclose of the chemical components of their sprays, as well as information about the genetic engineering of crops. Now agricultural giants DuPont, Syngenta, and DOW Chemical have launched a counter attack and are suing to overturn these laws by claiming the issue is outside of the county’s legal jurisdiction.

Gary Hooser, a member of Kauai council who co-introduced the bill, tells BTR that the lawsuit is just another example of how the big agricultural companies monopolize the industry without any concern for local communities.

“They have enough money to tie it up for years and it will delay the bill’s implementation, which is what they want,” he says. “But our community is determined to fight them on it.”

Hooser also divulges that these three companies have placed unwarranted pressure on local farmers. Their influence has forced some ranchers to move outside of Kauai, and in certain cases, convinced landlords to warn their farmers against growing certain produce that conflicts with the interests DuPont, Syngenta, and DOW Chemical.

He also brings up the point that these same three biotech giants use harmful pesticides. Although no direct link has been proven, Hooser believes, along with many members of the community, that poisonous chemicals sprayed in field close to Waimea Canyon Middle School led to many children being hospitalized.

Dylan Hooser, the son of Gary Hooser, writes accounts in his blog about how local parents find their children suffering from regular nosebleeds and respiratory complications. They see it as resulting from the drift of pesticide-laden dust.

Gary Hooser also informs BTR that Atrazine, one of the chemicals used by Syngenta, is actually banned in the company’s home country, Switzerland. He says he really questions why it is allowed in Kauai and other parts of the US.

“I believe the federal government should step up on the issue but I fear that these companies already have way too much influence in politics already,” Hooser says.

Another major issue in contest is the use of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in farming by these giant agricultural companies. GMOs are plants or animals that have had their genetics modified in an attempt to improve their quality, cost, or variety. This practice is often exercised by DuPont, Syngenta, and DOW Chemical, not to mention Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, and Bayer Cropscience.

There have been a few studies that suggest that GMOs are linked to organ failure, increased allergic reactions, and potential immunity to antibiotics.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) believes for the most part that they are safe. On their website they state:

“GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”

Despite this assurance by the WHO, 26 countries were reported last year by The Nation as having total or partial bans on GMOs – including most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Labeling laws are also exercised in 64 countries including large parts of Africa and Asia. These laws require companies to show when GMOs are used in their products. The big biotech corporations are exerting pressure on Australian government, and it’s speculated that these actions will cause authorities to change their stance on genetically engineered crops by 2015.

Meanwhile, grassroots, civilian-organized campaigns have erupted around the world protesting GMOs, including Food Democracy Now!, Non-GMO Project, Center For Food Safety, and March Against Monsanto.

March Against Monsanto received international attention during the global protest of the biotech giant on May 25 last year. Thousands of people came out in over 436 cities and 52 countries, some of which included Belgium, Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Australia. In Antwerp, Belgium, 80 protesters were arrested, but most of the global efforts remained peaceful.

In the face of mounting public scrutiny and pleas from shareholders the company is attempting a turn for more conventional methods of developing and planting seeds, announced in an article for Wired magazine last week. Though March Against Monsanto responded to BTR’s requests following the global protest last spring, they declined to comment this time around after repeated attempts.

Whatever the reason, it’s apparent that the many struggles against powerful biotechnology giants, be it genetically-modified crops exported to international markets or harmful pesticide cocktails perceived to harm local schoolchildren, have many levels where grassroots resistance has, and will continue to, battle.