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What Farming Ban? The Maui GMO Initiative, herbicides and the Rainbow Papaya

Recently, a well-funded political action group named the “Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban,” or CAMCFB, has been very vocal in the local Maui county community, leaving many Maui residents wondering what exactly the “Farming Ban” is.

A non-profit group, the organization has propagated multiple TV commercials and has sponsored a news letter signed by local Maui figures, calling for a vote against the proposed GMO moratorium in November.

The organization was started by Adolth Helm, who is a project manager at Dow Agro-Science. Dow Chemicals is one of the largest GMO companies on earth and one of two chemical companies growing GMO crops in Maui County.

The proposed GMO moratorium arose from the local political action group “The Shaka Movement,” which collected 9,062 valid signatures in order to get the initiative on the ballot.

The proposed initiative, entitled “A Bill Placing a Moratorium on the Cultivation of Genetically Engineered Organisms” would “prohibit any growth, testing or cultivation of genetically modified or engineered crops and would put a stop to any genetic modification and engineering operations in the county until an environmental and public health study is conducted.”

CAMCFB had filed a lawsuit in the Second Circuit court, claiming that the title of the initiative is “misleading, confusing, and deceptive towards voters.” On September 15th, Judge Rhonda Loo ruled against CAMCFB, ordering that the initiative would indeed appear on the November 4th ballot.

Now the organization is spending big bucks to fight the initiative in the battlefield of public opinion.
GMO Adwatch
CAMCFB first made its message widely available through a newsletter circulated in August. The newsletter begins, “This November, we will vote on the Maui County Farming Ban, a ballot initiative that would have serious negative consequences on Maui County.”

The letter itself is hand signed by three local figures: Nancy K. Johnson, a Nursing Professor at Maui College; May Fujiwara, the President of the Lahaina-Honolua Senior Citizen’s Club; and Dr. Harold H. Keyser, a retired professor.

Nancy Johnson was able to give me some insight into her beliefs. May Fujiwara and Harold Keyser denied interview requests.

According to Professor Johnson, fellow UHMC professor Sally Irwin invited her to a meeting hosted by the CAMCFB organization. Sally Irwin, who features in a CAMCFB television commercial, subsequently denied an interview request.

Professor Johnson instructed me that her opinion of the initiative was based on two perspectives. One, Johnson “feels comfortable that there is not a health risk from eating foods that are produced using genetic modifications.” Johnson said she arrived at this conclusion by looking into the research done by federal authorities like the American Medical Association. Johnson suggested “people that are concerned about it, [consuming GMO food] that they could choose to eat other foods.”

Second, Johnson believes the wording of the initiative is “very aggressive and that the punishments are quite harsh,” adding that growing genetically modified papaya could be a punishable offense.

Johnson also added that “in healthcare, we have a lot of genetically modified drugs and vaccines that have been life saving.”

When I asked if Johnson had any opinions on the use of pesticides, she reaffirmed that she does not have a background in that matter. Additionally Johnson stated that she did not personally know anyone within CAMCFB and that she felt that many of the people who signed the initial petition were not “fully aware” of what they were signing.

Media contact for CAMCFB, Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez, had scheduled a phone interview with me, although Mr. Blackburn never answered when I attempted to call.

I was then contacted by Mr. Blackburn by email who instructed me that: “I have received several calls regarding your desire to interview various individuals associated with the Citizens Against the Maui Farming Ban. From this point on all of your interview requests must be channeled through me in my role as media contact for the committee.”

Mr. Blackburn then instructed me that I would only be allowed an interview, or “access” as he put it, if I sent him my resume and web links to every story I have had published in the last two years. When I told Mr. Blackburn that I would share my published stories with him, just not my resume, I apparently lost access.


Bruce Douglas is a co-founder of The Shaka Movement and co-author of “A Bill Placing a Moratorium on the Cultivation of Genetically Engineered Organisms.”

Douglas clarified that what the initiative is asking for is for the GMO industry to pause growing and experimenting with GMO’s on Maui, until it can prove to the county council that it is not harmful to the local community. The initiative is not a permanent ban on the growth of GMO’s on Maui.

Mr. Douglas told me how he believes CAMCFB is a “total Monsanto front group,” allowing the industry to spread falsehoods while not being liable for the misinformation.

Mr. Douglas claims that no one on Maui, other than Monsanto, currently is growing genetically modified crops, specifically because it is copyright infringement to grow their crops. Therefore, the initiative would not impact anyone not directly working for Monsanto.

Importantly Douglas believes that CAMCFB is lying about the threat of job losses, because “they [Monsanto] can always switch to growing hybrid seeds.” Douglas added “that now that China and Russia have joined Europe, Australia and New Zealand and much of the rest of the world in banning or limiting GMO’s, the market for GMO crops has peaked.”

Douglas also told me how GMO crops also create new problems, as new “super-weeds” have already started becoming resistant to Glyphosate, the active ingredient in most pesticides, forcing the chemical industry to switch to new poisons such as the herbicide known as 2,4-D.

Also there are concerns that Glyphosate bio accumulates in the body. The organization Mothers Across America recently conducted a study in which they found Glyphosate actually bio-accumulates in women’s breast milk.
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About David Kelley Smith

David Kelley Smith is a staff writer at MAUIWatch. He is a recent graduate of the University of Hawaii at Manoa holding bachelor degrees in both Political Science and American History. David was also a staff writer for the student paper Ka Leo O Hawaii and is now covering community and political issues in Maui County.

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