Letters to the Editor

May, 2015

What’s Next for Molokai?

The story in March’s issue about what will happen to Molokai’s economy if the agricultural chemical companies leave was insightful. Like many small communities that tied themselves to one large employer, Molokai’s economy is in a dangerous position. Rust belt, mining and timber communities across the U.S. can attest to the aftermath. It’s time to rethink the issue and invest in small.

A study published in Harvard Business Review found economies that best survived the 2008 recession had a strong correlation: those with a highest number of small businesses per capita had better job creation and more resilience than those economies dominated by larger businesses. What Molokai needs is not to hold on to Monsanto, but to start investing in small businesses that can sustain Hawaii and employ people. Small, locally owned businesses don’t leave when the political winds shift or the going gets a little rough. They’re invested in their communities and support other locally owned businesses by buying local.

An equally important argument is the chemical/GMO companies have negative economic impacts that are often ignored. On Molokai, residents are often exposed to “fugitive dust clouds” with residues of experimental pesticides. Water pollution and air pollution make people sick, as we’ve seen across several islands where healthcare professionals oppose the spraying of chemicals. The agricultural chemicals get into waterways and hurt subsistence, sport and commercial fishing. Persistent spraying of agricultural chemicals reduces honeybee and other pollinator populations, diminishing the productivity of neighboring farms. Erosion combined with persistent exposure to excessive petrochemical inputs leave soils infertile and reduce future farm productivity. All these things hurt Molokai’s economy in lasting ways not often discussed.

Monsanto and other GMO companies justify these challenges by focusing on short-term jobs and claiming they’re needed to “feed the world.” This latter is a ruse, at best. GMO corn and soy are predominantly not grown for human consumption. According to the National Corn Growers’ Association, high fructose corn syrup and other corn-based sweeteners are the most common products directly consumed by people that come from GMO corn, by a margin of almost 4:1 over products like Corn Flakes.

Even these “food” products pale in comparison to GMO corn’s main uses: feed for cattle in factory farms and as the basis for corn ethanol, which, together, make up about 80 percent of all corn grown.

The last, and perhaps most insidious, challenge is that these operations would likely fail if they existed in a truly capitalist society. The federal Farm Bill is little more than a pork trough for GMO agribusinesses, with upwards of 75 percent of all food subsidies going to meat and dairy operations, much of it to support “feed” from GMO corn and soy growers. Meanwhile, vegetable and fruit subsidies regularly tally less than half of 1 percent.

—Scott Cooney

Too often in today’s world, as we talk about businesses, we tend to view them as cold, faceless, nebulous entities. We separate them from the human element, from the people who make up these companies, the employees and their families who rely upon these jobs. These people belong to our communities and dedicate their time, talents and services to help make our home a better place.

Lavonne Leong’s article on Molokai was able to bridge this gap and bring back into focus the relationship between our island’s rich agricultural heritage and the people who live and work here. We are a community deeply rooted in agriculture. And, like so many other agricultural communities throughout the world, we rely upon one another to sustain ourselves.

Steve Petranik’s Editor’s Note was right, “Islands Don’t Always Control Their Destinies.” However, our community knows what’s best for us. Last November, Molokai spoke clearly: By a margin of nearly 2 to 1, our island voted to oppose the anti-GMO ballot initiative. This issue was so important that we had a 58 percent voter turnout (compared to 42 percent statewide). Many people registered to vote for the first time in their lives because they knew the impact this issue could have on our island.

Molokai is a model for co-existence where farmers of all types work together and help each other. The purveyors of conflict don’t grow crops, or help farmers and our community to get ahead. Instead, they sow seeds of anger and discontent in hopes they’ll grow into a divided community. But our community won’t let that happen. We’re strong, we’re resilient and our voices have been heard.

—Robert StephensonPresident & CEO, Molokai Chamber of Commerce

Thank you for the article on Molokai’s dilemma regarding the moratorium on GMO seed planting and dangers to Molokai if those companies pull out.  It was rather long, but I couldn’t stop reading and then – where was the ending? Where was the other side of the story? Why are the people on Maui asking for a moratorium when so many people benefit from the presence of Monsanto?

As you pointed out, Molokai is the “piko,” the keeper of knowledge about the land and the sea, so shouldn’t its people be aware of why Monsanto is in Hawaii and if there will be lasting consequences to the aina if their crops destroy the bees and butterflies and the very soil? Will we ever be able to bring the island back to where it was if we find the crops do more long-term harm than good? Do we really know what Monsanto is planting? These organic farmers who receive help from these large companies, do they really know how long they can call their crops “organic” if Monsanto’s experiment spreads throughout the Islands? I was hoping your article would answer some of these questions.

I understand how the islanders feel. Boy, they are between a rock and a hard place. And their lovely spirit and love for their lifestyle surely should be respected, because there is no place like Molokai.

In the end, I believe that the people of Molokai will have to find the answers themselves. There are many smart and innovative people there who can contribute to a diversified economy, but it will have to be give a little and take a little to find that balance between modern comforts and a simple lifestyle.

—Diane Koki

Many thanks for a very balanced view of Molokai’s dilemma facing the anti-GMO ladies. In view especially of the Star-Advertiser’s very biased writings on the subject, a review like yours is most welcome.

It’s been such a joy to work with and for this “friendly isle” since I started corn trials in 1962. It’s useful to be reminded that about 400 million acres were wisely and safely planted with GMO varieties worldwide in 2014, and no one even sneezed.

—Jim Brewbaker 

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