By Wendy Osher
A march on Maui against genetically modified organism farming drew crowds of sign-waving demonstrators along Ka’ahumanu Avenue in Kahului on Saturday afternoon.
Participants estimated the turnout to be in the thousands, but an official count was difficult to verify due in part to the mobility of the crowd.
The rally was one in a series that is planned on various islands across the state this month to raise awareness of the impacts of GMOs on the food supply, water and land, according to event organizers.
The final march in the series will be held on Moloka`i next weekend March 30.
“Today’s March in March event was part of state-wide effort to educate and raise awareness of the dangers of GMOs in Hawai’i,” said Molokai resident Walter Ritte, who flew to Maui to participate in the event.
According to Ritte, the Maui march “had the largest turn out (well over 2000 marchers) topping the nearly 2000 on Kauai and nearly two thousand combined in Hilo and Kona.”
“What an amazing show of Maui speaking out. I was totally blown away by the energy of the massive crowd. For me it was about caring about our community’s health, our right to know what’s in the food we eat and our right to decide whether or not we want to put genetically modified food in our bodies,” said Maui resident Mahina Martin who also attended the rally.
“Even with these astonishing turn outs of concerned consumers on the streets, the Hawaii Senate on Thursday killed HB 174, a Labeling bill which passed out of the House with only one no vote… The protestors were encouraged to participate in politics and help elect leaders who will listen to the voice of the people,” said Ritte.
While the comment was directed to specific individuals one Maui lawmaker who has voiced support for GMO labeling advocates issued a message via Maui Now’s Facebook page following the vote. In the message, Rep. Kaniela Ing said, “Be proud of what we accomplished and keep pushing. GMO labeling is common sense and inevitable. It’s only a matter of time before we meet the standard set by so many other industrialized nations. With your continued efforts, the time looks sooner rather than later.”
He continued, “With resolutions moving, the dialog is not over. And just think about what we accomplished: we passed a labeling bill out of the House chamber–that’s miles further than most states. Thanks to you, Hawaii has become the leader and took a huge leap forward in the national debate. Next year, we’ll get the Senate on board; holomua.”
The Maui march began at noon at War Memorial Stadium, and proceeded 1.8 miles to the Maui Mall in Kahului.
It was organized by GMO Free Maui in solidarity with the creators of March in March that included the leadership of the Hawai`i GMO Justice Coalition. GMO Free Maui is a group of citizens sharing concern for sustainability in Maui and what they believe to be the hazardous implications of genetically engineering on sacred land.
Many of the signs had specific messages to Monsanto speaking out against the company with posters that read, “Evict Monsanto,” “No Monsanto. We are not your lab rats,” and “Maui Occupy Monsanto.”
In response to a request for comment, Carol Reiman, Monsanto Hawai’i Government & Community Affairs spokesperson said, “We respect everyone’s right to voice their opinion. Unfortunately, we’ve heard many misleading and factually incorrect statements made about genetically engineered foods.”
“We realize the topic is complex, and that people have questions. We are committed to transparency and are happy to have an open, respectful dialogue with anyone genuinely interested in taking the time to learn more about who we are and what we do,” she said.
Reiman provided two pages of literature on biotech foods and research as well as commentary from commissions and agencies in support of the company’s products and practices.
Among the statements included in the information provided by Monsanto officials was the following:
“Biotech foods are the most well studied and highly regulated food crops in the world. Prior to being planted on our farms, they are extensively tested. Tests and additional materials are reviewed for safety by the USDA, EPA, Europe’s EFSA and numerous other organizations around the world, and have been found to be similar in safety profiles to other crops and foods in the market.”
***Further comments were requested from company organizers, but were unavailable at the time of this initial posting. This post will be updated when additional information is received.