|Native Hawaiians protest GM corn (5/11/2005)|
EXCERPT: "We're not guinea pigs. We are not lab rats." - Walter Ritte, spokesman for the native Hawaiian community group, Hui Ho'opakela Aina (item 3)
A majority of the estimated 150 people who were in attendance were [Monsanto] employees. Many of them were bussed in.
GMO activists march at meeting site
Despite that, Walter Ritte, spokesman for the community group that organized the demonstration, said he still thought their message got through.
"I think we got a lot of people asking, 'What are GMOs?' and 'What are they doing in our fields?'" said Ritte.
A representative of Monsanto on Molokai could not be reached for comment.
Ritte said members of Hui Ho'opakele 'Aina ("Rescue the Land") were allowed to enter the Hoolehua Recreation Center where Monsanto employees were meeting with executives from the Mainland. When they weren't permitted to ask their questions, Ritte said the protesters began marching around the room with their signs.
"I apologized to them if we disturbed them, but we felt we had been lied to because they said we could ask our questions," said Ritte.
The group wanted to ask Monsanto if GMOs were being grown on Molokai and would company representatives agree to sit down with the community to talk more about the subject.
GMOs are crops that have had genetic material inserted in seeds to produce plants that have qualities that promote productivity, including resistance to diseases and pesticides.
Ritte said Hui Ho'opakele 'Aina still had hopes it could convince representatives of the other seed company on the island, Dow/Mycogen, to meet with residents. But the group wasn't ready to give up on Monsanto, either.
"We're going to keep going after Monsanto to tell us what they're doing with their secret little factories," said Ritte.
Earlier this week, a spokesman for Monsanto Hawaiian Research said meetings have been held with the Molokai community.
Hui Ho'opakele 'Aina was organized to deal with other issues that members felt would adversely affect the community on Molokai, including questions raised three years ago over the impact of large cruise ships landing passengers at the Kaunakakai Wharf.
2.GMO in Hawaii gets stirred up on Molokai
A town meeting briefly heated up after protesters stepped forward.
Executives from Monsanto wanted to hear from residents about their concerns over bio-tech research that's been going on for many years. On Thursday, they got what they wanted.
Genetically modified crops of corn in Kaunakakai have Molokai residents divided.
"It's very hard because you looking at people that you love, that you care about, and they stay on the other side," says Hano Naehu, Molokai resident.
The research companies provide much needed jobs.
"It's the main thing you get job in Molokai because sometimes Molokai don't have too much jobs, so how we going to feed our family if no more job?" asks William Casino, Monsanto employee.
"We are developing GMO crops here, or bio-tech -- better stated, bio-tech crops -- and we are proud of that," says Ray Foster, Monsanto/Hawaiian research general manager.
But some feel the crops are creating questions.
"We have concerns. These concerns have been pushed under the rug, and everything that's being grown is a big secret," says Walter Ritte, Molokai resident.
About a dozen people protested as Monsanto executives arrive for a town meeting.
"We wanted to come now to raise the red flag and get people to ask, 'well what is a GMO, what is going on?'" says Ritte.
A majority of the estimated 150 people who were in attendance were employees. Many of them were bussed in.
Inside, as executives start to share information, the protesters step forward.
"This is Molokai, brah, not only what you guys went hire," says Naehu.
"Nobody is telling us anything. We're afraid for our health, we're afraid for our children's health, the cornfields surround our town," says Ritte. "Half of us don't even know what a GMO is. We don't even know what we're growing over here."
So we ask a couple of workers.
"Do you know what a GMO is? Yeah, we know something with chemicals or something," says Casino.
"We're very proud of what we do, and we welcome the questions," says Foster. "We've been planting biotech's products now for 10 years. We've planted over a billion acres, and so there hasn't been one case of harm to people or the environment."
The State Health Department says there's no proof genetically modified crops are dangerous to the people of Hawaii or any place where they're being tested.
3.Biotech firm touts record in face of Molokai protest
Hui Ho'opakela Aina spokesman Walter Ritte said Hawaiian Research's activity threatens the community's health, organic farming and medicinal Hawaiian plants, such as the uhaoloa shrub whose roots are used to treat congestion in children.
"Their secret GMO (genetically modified organisms) experiments in the corn fields surrounding our town is dangerous to our lives and is unacceptable," Ritte said.
Ritte said the 20 protesters demonstrated their objections at a lunch sponsored by Hawaiian Research to discuss worries expressed by the community.
Hawaiian Research, which employs about 140 full- and part-time employees, started on Molokai in 1968 and became a part of the Monsanto Co. in 2000.
The company develops seed corn in fields near the eastern and western edge of Kaunakakai town.
Hawaiian Research manager Ray Foster said the business is very proud that in the 10 years that biotech crops have been commercially grown, there has not been one single documented case of any health issue anywhere in the world caused by the technology.
"I don't think we could have wished for a better record," he said.
Foster said there is a growing body of evidence that shows the biotech crops could actually help reduce illnesses and deaths.
"Some of the newer plant varieties being developed now will have higher levels of vitamins or Omega 3 fatty acids that can help fight vitamin A deficiencies and cardiovascular disease," Foster said.
Foster said 100 percent of the biotech crops on Molokai are corn, which can only cross-pollinate with another corn plant and not any known native species.
He said the business also plants fields far apart from other fields and at different times, and also bag the tassels so the pollen can't go elsewhere.
Foster said agricultural biotechnology has been endorsed by a number of health and medical organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, American College of Nutrition, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Ritte said the plants grown by Monsanto are not normal corn plants but genetically modified.
"Nobody knows what the reaction of these modifications are," Ritte said. "That's why they call it research. We're not guinea pigs. We are not lab rats."