By Wendy Osher
A total of 9,500 signatures were submitted to the county on Monday as part of a petition calling for the suspension of genetically-engineered operations and practices in Maui County.
The signatures were submitted by The Shaka Movement  in an attempt to get the item on the November ballot as an initiative.
Mark Sheehan PhD, one of five residents who started the petition , said that by submitting the document, it marks the start of a 45 day period in which the County Registrar will review the signatures to verify that they are from valid individuals who are registered to vote in Maui County.
According to Sheehan, the group has an additional 1,500 petition sheets that have yet to be notarized. During the next few weeks, organizers say they will continue their efforts to gather more signatures as a buffer to ensure that the group has the required 8,500 valid signatures to qualify for inclusion on the November ballot.
Sheehan said the action has become necessary because of the thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Maui legislators from Monsanto and chemical corporations. He also said a critical factor for petition backers their belief that, “a wide range of illnesses — childhood cancers, miscarriages, birth defects, ADD, ADHD, allergies, asthma, and more — are related to the contamination of the environment from massive use of pesticides.”
“Every day brings more evidence of research studies from around the world linking both pesticides and GMOs to these illnesses and ailments,” said Sheehan in an email communication announcing the group’s progress in obtaining signatures.
“Submitting these signatures today was of major importance for the health of the public as well as our ability to take action to overcome the ineffectiveness of our compromised politics,” said Sheehan.
Representatives from Monsanto Hawaiʻi meantime responded to the petition calling it “a terrible initiative,” “unnecessary,” and “meaningless,” with claims that biotech crops are safe and protect crops threatened by disease.
Dawn Bicoy, community affairs manager for Monsanto Molokaʻi issued a statement saying the company will be mounting “an aggressive campaign against this initiative,” saying it would “devastate our county’s fragile agricultural economy.”
Bicoy said the initiative is based on what he called “false claims that are not supported at all by the overwhelming body of scientific evidence.”
Monsanto representatives say biotech crops are “critical to making food available and affordable to the world while also protecting crops threatened by disease, like Hawaii’s own papaya.”
The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association also released a statement against the initiative saying that, “With almost 18 million farmers worldwide growing genetically engineered crops — 90% of whom are small farmers in developing countries — the SHAKA Initiative would stop Maui farmers from taking advantage of modern technology to help address some of the most pressing problems facing agriculture today.”
Sheehan’s argument counters that claim saying, “you only have to dig a little bit to understand that GMOs are living organisms that stay alive in your gut; gut bacteria accounts for 70% of your immune system.”
Bicoy called the initiative “an attack against hundreds of employees and their families throughout Maui County” saying it “would result in significant revenue loss for not just the seed companies but other local businesses that benefit from having the seed industry here.”
About 200 Monsanto employees on Maui  and 140 on Molokaʻi held signs during a rally last week to demonstrate support for Hawaii’s seed industry; while petition supporters joined in an anti-GMO rally  held on March 30 in Kahului that drew more than 1,000 participants.
Sheehan said, “the whole world is watching. We have received support from around the country and other countries who are applauding what we are doing.”