By Wendy Osher
Hundreds of Monsanto employees turned out this morning to demonstrate their support for Monsanto and Hawaiʻi agriculture at rallies on Maui and Molokaʻi.
More than 200 employees attended the rally on Maui on the lawn fronting the Kalana O Maui building in Wailuku; while another 140 assembled on Molokaʻi, according to the company.
Prior to the event, company representatives described the rally as “short” and “peaceful,” and said it was to demonstrate support for Hawaiʻi’s seed industry.
As part of the gathering, employees delivered more than 1,000 pages of scientific studies and safety reviews on genetically-engineered crops to Mayor Alan Arakawa’s office.
“Today’s event was really about following through with our commitment to transparency with the County of Maui. In November of 2013, we actually signed an agreement with Maui County — a promise that we would be transparent in providing information that would be publicly available so the community could have access to what we do, and feel comfortable with what we’re doing. So, this was a follow up,” said Dan Clegg, Hawaii land and resources manager for Monsanto.
“This was about our employees having a voice; our employees being proud of about being part of local agriculture; our employees showing the county and folks in the community that they really care about local agriculture as a whole — all kinds of agriculture. The crescendo to that was the actual hand off of over 1,700 documents and reports that prove from a global scientific community that what we do and our products are actually safe, and what we do is a good thing,” said Clegg in an interview during the Wailuku event.
The rally comes on the heels of an anti-GMO march and rally  held on Sunday, and a petition organized by five Maui residents calling for the suspension of genetically-engineered operations and practices in Maui County.
The petition seeks a temporary moratorium initiative until an Environmental Public Health Impact Statement is provided and reviewed by the Maui County Council. The document would also include analysis of the impacts stemming from genetically-engineered operations and their associated pesticide use.
Mark Sheehan, one of the five citizens bringing forth the initiative issued a statement upon submitting the proposal in February saying, “The citizens of Maui County have serious concerns as to whether the GE seed operations, open-field mixing of pesticide cocktails, and GE crop experimentation occurring in Maui County are causing irreparable harm to the people, the environment, and public trust resources.”
“I think there’s lots of questions. I don’t want to speculate, but I would say there’s a group of people that have signed a petition that are thoroughly confused,” said Clegg.
“They actually don’t have all of the information. Some people have made up their mind, and that’s OK; but I think the people that really don’t have access to all of the information — they are the ones that now is their opportunity to step back, think about where they want local agriculture to go, get all the information before they make a decision. Hopefully the mayor’s office makes the information in these reports available,” said Clegg.
Clegg continued saying, “I’ll be real honest with you that our employees are very frustrated. They work very hard every day. They care about what they’re doing. They know that they work in a safe environment. They know that Monsanto is a good company, and they hear people talking negatively about their employer and actually about them. This was an opportunity for our employees to have a voice for themselves, and to be able to talk about — hey I feel proud about what I do. Really, it was most important for them — that was who it was for — it was for our employees.”
“Monsanto has a company-wide pledge to be a good neighbor and responsible steward of the land,” said Carol Reimann, Monsanto community & government affairs manager in a statement. “We continue to work with the mayor’s office to engage in dialogue and enhance understanding of our farming practices in order to show our commitment to the county and our communities,” she said.
Company representatives say the reports include: references to more than 1,780 peer reviewed studies backing the safety of GM crops; copies of papers by independent health and environmental agencies that have scrutinized GM crops; and a report by the National Research Council discussing the economic and environmental benefits of the crops.
***B-roll rally footage courtesy Monsanto Hawaiʻi; Interview with Dan Clegg conducted by Maui Now.