(NaturalNews) The state of Hawaii has become the new battleground in the controversy regarding GMO crops and pesticides, according to a watchdog organization that monitors the industry.
With the crop seed industry -- conventional as well as genetically modified crops -- reaping some $146.3 million a year in sales from Hawaii-based farming activity, out-of-state pesticide and biotech firms like Monsanto, Syntenta, DuPont Pioneer, Dow Chemical, BASF and Bayer CropScience "have brought substantial sums of corporate cash into the state's relatively small political arena," reports the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch.
These "Big 6" firms have become very active on the islands, making use of the three to four annual growing seasons in the region's moderate climate to develop new GMO seeds even more quickly. This development goes hand in hand with heavy pesticide use in some of the islands' experimental crop fields, according to new data obtained by PR Watch:
Kaua'i County -- consisting primarily of the island of Kaua'i, known as Hawai'i's "Garden Isle" and home to Waimea Canyon State Park -- passed a law in November 2013 that requires disclosure of pesticide use and GMO crops sewn by growers and created buffer zones around schools, parks, medical facilities, and private residences. The law is set to go into effect in August 2014.
The Big 6 not to be denied
GMOs were banned completely in Hawaii County in November 2013; a Maui County initiative to ban GMOs has just recently received enough signatures from citizens to be placed on the November 2014 ballot.
After experiencing these setbacks, Big Agriculture retaliated, and in a major way. Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, Agrigenetics (which does business as Dow AgroSciences) and BASF have all joined a lawsuit to prevent Kauai from enacting its law.
Meanwhile, Bayer, Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto, along with a number of associated trade groups, have spent more than $50,000 lobbying the state legislature, as lawmakers considered bills designed to override county laws, according to data obtained by PR Watch from the Hawaii State Ethics Commission.
Of these, the organization said, the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, whose members include Dow AgroScience, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Syngenta and BASF, had the most expenditure. They were joined by the American Chemistry Council, a powerful national trade association whose members include BASF, Bayer, Dow and DuPont.
Primary elections for statewide and federal legislative offices, including the governorship, take place Aug. 9. PR Watch noted that a number of Big Ag firms have spent more than $700,000 in contributions to candidates, from November 2006 to December 2013.
Monsanto was the top donor, with its PAC contributing $115,500.
Big money to influence the 'outcome'
Needless to say, the influx of money into the process has a number of residents and local groups fighting against GMOs concerned.
"The influx of big money and threat of unlimited 'independent expenditures' have resulted in politicians statewide increasingly placing the interests of corporations over the interests of citizens," Barbara Polk, Chair of Common Cause Hawaii -- a state branch of the non-partisan, grassroots organization that strives for open, honest and accountable government -- told PR Watch. "Politicians are forced to consider the likelihood of facing well-funded opposition and attack ads in the next election if they don't toe the corporate line."
Ashley Lukens, Program Director of the Hawaii Center for Food Safety -- a state office of the environmental advocacy organization that opposes the use of GMOs and harmful pesticides -- added, "The impact of this corporate cash on local politics is not just that representatives are pressured to vote based on donations to their campaigns. Rather this cash has been strategically spent to create a mirage of confusion and disagreement around very mainstream issues like pesticide disclosure and GMO labeling."
A recent national poll by Consumer Reports found that 92 percent of American consumers believe that GMO foods should be labeled, as well as meet long-term safety standards set by the government.
"Standing up for something as conservative as transparency around chemical use in Hawa'ii is treated as though it is radical," Lukens continued. "This radicalizing of dissent simply serves to silence the majority of the public and keep them from participating publicly in the civic process."