Biotech supporters pride themselves on their knowledge of western science, but perhaps they needed to pay more attention to Hawaiian history.
Kauai's Native Hawaiian residents will quickly and proudly remind us outsiders (including us Hawaiians from the other islands) that Kauai was never conquered, an important and too often overlooked historical point that explains a lot about this unique community.
In the late 1700s, as Kamehameha I moved Northwest in his unification of the islands, he tried repeatedly to launch forces from Oahu across the Ka'ie'ie channel to Kauai: failing each and every time.
Kauai would not be conquered.
This point has come to largely define Kauai and its people; from Kaluaikoolau, to Kahale Smith, to the Superferry and now GMOs, there is a simple truth most of us Hawaiians have come to respect: You don't mess with Kauai.
Regardless of your feelings about GMOs, there must be recognition that there's been horrendous strategy on the part of biotech companies who somehow thought they would be successful in bulldozing across an island that never, not once in its history, has allowed itself to be bullied.
It's a message other companies should hear loud and clear.
Communities in Hawaii are demanding more and more to be a partner in the decisions that impact their lives. There's nothing wrong with this. It's civil engagement at its finest. Political analysts cannot bemoan public apathy regarding governance on one hand and then criticize community organization with the other. The passage of Bill 2491 was the system working. Whether or not everyone loves the outcome is irrelevant.
The successful use of a nonviolent and transparent political process is a triumph in a world otherwise wrought with corruption and tyranny.
And really, above all else, the issue is one of transparency.
Kauai residents want to know what chemicals are being put into their lands and waters. They want to know the environmental impact of these activities. The "standards and guidelines for seed/diversified agriculture companies to voluntarily comply with certain health and safety requests of the community" hastily assembled and announced in late September by Governor Neil Abercrombie was the quintessential definition of "too little, too late."
Citizens are demanding access to science. They are demanding that scientists communicate their findings and their decision-making processes. They are demanding information. It's long overdue.
The tragedy here is that science has become the sacrificial lamb of the politics of GMOs. And science isn't bad. Even biotechnology isn't bad. It is the science of medicine, pharmaceuticals, and vaccinations. Biotechnology saves lives.
But we are entitled to transparency. We are entitled to complete, full, and accurate information. We are entitled to our skepticism about an industry that moved from producing chemical weapons to food.
The most passionate testimonies on Bill 2491 were about unanswered questions. Tough, young fathers don't sob for show.
Whether or not biotech companies are culpable for this child's birth defect, this young father is entitled to his questions and even more entitled to answers. While the CDC does not identify a specific cause of gastroschisis, a 2008 paper in the Journal of Pediatrics notes that Hawaii has reported an "unexplained increasing prevalence of gastroschisis." Credible studies like these along with the testimony provided by Kauai doctors like Dr. Lee Evslin, who supported the bill because of concerns about the use of pesticides and linkage with childhood disease, raise important questions about what, if any, impact certain biotech activities have on public health.
These questions aren't the result of mob mentality. These aren't fringe groups. These are parents and teachers and doctors raising legitimate questions about the illnesses occurring in their community and in their homes.
Did anybody really expect these people to sit by quietly and not raise their voices?
I don't doubt that agriculture biotechnology makes significant economic contributions to the island community. They are large employers. They donate to charities. They help Hawaii's agricultural industry. Many local large landowners rely on lease revenues from these companies.
These are complicated matters. None of this is easy for elected officials. None of it is easy for communities.
But the bottom line is this: We can recover from recessions. We can remedy unemployment. What we cannot recover from is complete destruction of natural resources. You cannot clean a poisoned aquifer. Reef systems can take decades to regenerate. And it is for these resources, and all the communities that depend upon their health, that island communities must continue to fight the good fight.