You know us. You’ve sat in our back yard while Dave cooks a pizza or three for you. You’ve sat next to us in church, or in a class, or at the coffee shop. You know our character and our hearts. What I’m coming to realize, is that some of you may not know what Dave does for a living. Dave works as the site lead for Monsanto Maui. What does that mean? That means the buck stops at his office. That means, when someone posts a nasty meme about his company, or holds a sign in front of his office that says “Monsanto Kills”, they’re talking about my husband, the guy cooking your pizza on the weekend.
I’d love to say that these things roll off my back, but they don’t. I find it deeply offensive. I can only conclude that not everyone knows where he works. The alternative is too discouraging. For Dave, his work with Monsanto is not just a job. It is a calling deeply rooted in his very nature.
Dave grew up in an Amish/Mennonite community in a family that has been farming since as long as anyone can remember. He grew up learning how to care for animals and the soil. It’s in his blood, and that didn’t change when he began working as a plant breeder for Monsanto 16 years ago. He takes his cultural mandate to care for the earth quite seriously.
Today, we find ourselves in a strange position. A group by the name of SHAKA is trying to convince the people of Maui that my husband doesn’t care for the earth, does crazy experiments on it, randomly sprays experimental chemicals across not only his land, but the entire community of Kihei, and that generally, he’s working hard to poison and kill you all.
DO PEOPLE REALLY BELIEVE THAT?!
As we head into the election season and this important vote on whether Dave should be allowed to continue working on Maui, I’m aware that there are a few misunderstandings about Monsanto and what they do here.
The following is my list of some of the frequent claims I’ve heard from SHAKA members (usually shouted angrily at me if I’m crazy enough to wear my Vote No shirt in public), and my response. This letter is based on my own reading, research, and observations. Please keep in mind, that I had questions about Monsanto for the first few years Dave worked there. In fact, we had a deal that if I could find one bad thing they were doing, he would quit. Sixteen years later, my questions are answered, and I’m convinced they are not what the internet scholars claim them to be.
1) Monsanto can TOTALLY just grow organic or non-GMO seeds for several years while SHAKA tests. (said in my best valley girl voice)
It is true that Monsanto grows some non-GMO crops on Maui, but only to facilitate a cross between a non-GMO and a GMO. By doing this, they can do a traditional cross to breed a desired trait into a plant. For instance, they could be trying to breed drought tolerance from a non-GMO into a plant that is pest resistant via GM. Best of both worlds. To stop growing GMOs would mean a shut down of the whole operation. 90% of the corn grown in the US is genetically modified. In Iowa, it’s 95%. It’s what the customer wants. Please see this funny post of a conversation I had with Miss M a few weeks ago. A business can’t just change its business model for a few years.
2) Monsanto is doing chemical testing on Maui and we have no idea what they are spraying!
No, they are not doing chemical testing here. Monsanto only uses crop protection products that are already tested and approved by the EPA. Dave’s dad uses many of the same things on his fields in Iowa. Monsanto reports publicly every year on what is used and how much is used. If you do the math for a product, they apply about 12 oz (yep, think a Coke can) of active ingredient per acre, per year. Please let that sink in for a moment. One Coke can of active ingredient on a football field size plot each year.
3) Monsanto is spraying/drifting untested chemical cocktails all over Kihei and poisoning the soil.
There are no untested chemicals used (see above), and I can only assume “cocktails” means using more than one product. This is something every modern farmer does because it saves fuel and time, and addresses the numerous pests that may be destroying their crop – just like you may kill roaches with one product, but kill weeds with another. Oh NO! A Chemical Cocktail! There are rules for this procedure and only certain things can be used together. We know what those are because, well, chemistry. Chemistry tells us what works together and what does not. As for drift, there are strict rules about this. Unlike for a home owner, if you want to commercially apply a chemical, you need to be trained and certified. Often and extensively. Check out page 19 of the above linked report, and you’ll see that you can get most products used by Monsanto at Ace Hardware – without certification. We bought a house across the street from Monsanto on purpose – at least we know they use their stuff safely. The guy next door may not be so careful. All trained applicators are required to check temperature, humidity and wind speed before applying that Coke can of product. If it’s too hot, too humid, or too windy, it’s a no go. Try again tomorrow when conditions will remove the possibility of drift. As for the poisoning of the soil, that’s just laughable. They work hard to maintain healthy soil. It’s a farmer’s life blood. One way they do this is through cover crops. Here’s a picture of a Monsanto Maui field under cover crop. Please note the happy little bee.
4) Pollen from GMOs drifts, and it infects non-GE crops.
A non-GMO corn farmer would need to be growing his corn within about 20 yards of a GM corn field to have a pollen drift problem. Plus, he would have to deliberately time his crop so that the flowering date is the same as the GM field. On the mainland, GMO corn, non-GMO corn, and organic corn can all grow happily next door to each other with just a little communication and planning between farmers. Staggering planting dates to avoid flowering on the same day solves this problem handily. Just to be clear, pollen from one species (corn) can’t “get into” another species (soy, tomato, papaya, etc.) via pollen drift.
5) Monsanto tests GMO seeds on Maui. (Open air testing of experimental organisms!)
No. Thorough evaluations of the biotech trait occur long before a seed arrives in Hawaii. Because this is not my area of expertise, I asked Dave to write his thoughts on this.
“A common misunderstanding is that Monsanto is “testing” GM crops on their Maui farms. This is false. The United States Department of Agriculture regulates the import, interstate movement, field release, and commercial release of GM crops under the Federal Plant Pest Act and the Plant Quarantine Act, which are administered by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The EPA has regulatory oversight for all GM crops that combat insect pests. Before any GM seed is allowed to be grown in Hawaii, The USDA has evaluated the data and deemed the seed is safe for growing. The farms on Maui are used to grow these seeds and increase their volume, or to make breeding crosses between plants. Corn can be grown on Maui year-round due to the semi-tropical environment and consistent temperatures. This is much different than the one-growing season a year that is possible in the temperate environments where most corn is grown.”
6) Monsanto sues farmers left and right, especially for pollen drift.
Monsanto does not sue for pollen drift. Ever. In fact, they have committed to not doing so in the future, and have not done so in the past. Monsanto has sued about 145 times total during the 16 (give or take) years that Dave has worked there. Breech of contract is the problem. Farmers voluntarily sign a contract to use a GM seed and they agree not to save seed from one year to the next. Important fact: farmers haven’t been saving corn and soy seeds for about 80 years now because companies can do a far better job of storing seed properly and ensuring genetic purity. Now, if a farmer signs that contract, and then breaks that agreement by saving and replanting his seed, he gets busted. Think of it like buying a CD and then making 20,000 copies of the music and profiting from those copies. It’s stealing. Monsanto wins these cases, not because they control the world, but because stealing is wrong.
7) Products with GMOs in them make us sick. They are not tested.
2000+ studies done by independent agencies say otherwise. One or two outliers, published in questionable journals and conducted with poorly designed experiments, do NOT change the consensus of the scientific community. To date, we’ve consumed about 3 Trillion meals involving these crops without even a stomach ache.
8) Monsanto is poisoning the reefs/water.
We have issues in Hawaii with Nitrogen run-off into the water. Nitrogen is found in fertilizers whether synthetic or “natural”. We’re talking poop. Entities contributing to the problem are ALL types of agriculture (GMO, Conventional, and Organic), poorly treated waste water, over fertilization of home lawns, and cesspools installed along the shore. To blame one company for all that is wrong on this island is illogical. The water report that came out earlier this year showed that the highest levels of water problems were in urban areas (think Honolulu), and even then, the “problems” were below the safe level.
9) There is no oversight of Monsanto’s activities in Maui County.
Of course there is oversight. The USDA, EPA, and Hawaii’s own Department of Agriculture know everything that is occurring here and regulate it all. This oversight includes on-site inspections and audits. The thought of no oversight is ludicrous.
10) Monsanto is a massive company and is part of a global conspiracy to dominate the world. They control the world’s governments and all associated agencies.
Some days, I wish this were true. But, NO. Monsanto is trying to address the problems we face with our food supply. Yes, they hope to make a profit while doing this, but I don’t know of any business that doesn’t exist to make a profit. We have enough food right now to feed every human on earth, but we have distribution problems. In about 30 years we will have another 2 billion people on the earth. We don’t have enough food for them. We need to develop crops that will be more productive, and do things like tolerate the harsh dry climate of Africa so that people there can produce their own food rather than trying to import from the US. This is a big area of work for Monsanto. As far as their size, I love this little meme that I picked up somewhere. I wish I knew who made it. Let me know if it’s yours and I’ll give credit where credit is due.
11) Monsanto is an unsafe work environment where everyone walks around in Hazmat suits.
Um, no. Just no. I’ve never seen this. Yes, when a spray is used, they follow every safety precaution according to label, but I’ve never seen a Hazmat suit. They are a top OSHA site, and to be honest, they are quite anal about safety. Dave won’t even let me visit without closed toe shoes on my feet, or walk through a cornfield without safety glasses. (Insert eye roll)
12) Monsanto is a big evil chemical corporation.
Monsanto is a seed company. Yes, Monsanto of old was a chemical company, but they were purchased by Pharmacia (in 1999) and eventually the Monsanto of today was spun off as an ag company (in 2000) while Pharmacia kept the chemical end of the business. I’m still annoyed with them for not taking a new name, but that’s a different issue. They are not the same. Activists would like to continue whipping the grandchildren for the sins of the grandfather, but this is rather unfair.
I encourage you to talk with me, talk with Dave, ask questions. Please take the time to learn more about Monsanto and what Dave does there. It’s pretty amazing and it’s something I’m so thankful to be part of here on Maui, even if it’s just as a spouse. SHAKA can keep making nasty blood-splattered memes with Dave’s handsome face on them, and I’ll keep making coffee mugs out of them. Our cupboard may get full, but we at least get to live in the knowledge that we are doing something great for agriculture and for the world our grandchildren will inherit.
With Aloha, Rhonda