While the days of sugar are long-gone, Hawaii is now the epicenter for GMO testing. Thousands of acres, planted with experimental crops, are located adjacent to working-class communities comprised mostly of the Hawaiian, Filipino, Chinese, and Japanese descendants of sugar workers. These populations are exposed to frequent and intense experimental spraying of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers.
Finally, in 2014, a grassroots opposition arose. Conditions had become intolerable. People were literally sick from the impacts of agrochemical/biotech companies across the islands. Pesticide spraying had sent scores of children and adults to the emergency room.
An unprecedented outcry took place. Multi-ethnic communities marched by the thousand. Communities mounted class-action lawsuits. Big Biotech pulled out all the stops and Monsanto poured over $5 million into stopping Maui County from banning GMO agriculture. Maui prevailed, and so did Hawaii. Kauai County legislated to require GMO growers to put buffer zones between heavily sprayed fields and neighborhoods, and to publicly disclose which pesticides they used and how much. It was this political landscape that gave birth to the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA).
As the saga continued, however, the biotech companies turned around and sued the counties back, seeking to overturn the new regulations. A decision in 2016 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that none of the new county ordinances were valid, because pesticide use and GMO agriculture could be regulated only at the state level.
The court ruling forced us to re-strategize our goal of passing pesticide regulation, and for two years we strengthened our political base by widening partnerships with diverse groups and communities.
During the 2018 legislative session, a SB3095 was introduced. The bill included a ban on the neurotoxin chlorpyrifos; provisions for mandatory pesticides disclosure; Restricted-Use Pesticides buffer zones around schools; and a drift-monitoring study at three schools. This was years in the making and responds to long-standing demands from the community for the right to know what they are exposed to and greater protections. When it passed into law as Act 45, it was the first legislation in state history that regulated pesticides. It also made Hawaii the first state in the nation to ban chlorpyrifos.
We are extremely proud that the collaborative efforts of our organizing and communications strategies, with our allies and supporters, resulted in the milestone legislation. All of Hawaii will be safer as a result.