Agriculture Practices / Hawaii Politics / Life with Monsanto

An Open Letter to our Friends on Maui

Monsanto Cover CropDear Maui Friends,

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.IMG_1521

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.  photo

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.Screen shot 2014-10-14 at 11.04.33 AM

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

53 thoughts on “An Open Letter to our Friends on Maui

    • Thanks for this. It is a nice countering of the negative hype. Though I will not join the hyper negative hype, I’d like you to know one thing about me specifically: I’ve developed an intollarence to corn. Eating it causes loose stools or diarrhea, the purer the worse and more immediate. I’ve tried some non GMO products and have been able to tolerate most of them. So I suspect a link. Perhaps more logetudinal studies need to be done.

    • http://www.forbes.com/global2000/list/#page:1_sort:0_direction:asc_search:_filter:All%20industries_filter:All%20countries_filter:All%20states First Monsanto brought in 15.4 billion in sales, not 14 million. While Whole foods did make 13.3 billion, once again not million, that is sales not profit. Whole foods took in 600 million in profit, which these days is almost at the level of a non profit, Monsanto…2.7 billion, more than four times as much. For a degree of perspective Coca Cola, unquestionably a larger company, had 46.3 billion in sales and only 8.5 billion in profit. This means as a percentage Monsanto is pretty close to Coca Cola in profit to sales (Monsanto 17.53 %, Coca Cola 18.36 %, Whole Foods 4.5%) . Then there is the fact that Whole Foods is worth, total, about 19.5 billion, while Monsanto clocks in at 59.8 billion. I don’t have a problem with GMOs as a concept but lets not pretend Monsanto isn’t one of the rich and powerful with the system firmly entrenched on their side.

      • Owen, Thanks for pointing out this error in the meme. It should say that both are to be in “billions” not millions. At the same time, it’s still comparatively the same. I just grabbed the info for the most recent fiscal year for both companies off of Yahoo Finance. The current revenue figures are Monsanto: 15.86 B and Whole Foods 13.91 B. Still fairly similar. I’d have to agree that Monsanto is significantly more profitable. Thanks for the comment.

  1. Great information put in an easy to understand package and wrapped up with a humorous bow. Rhonda, thank you for sharing your experiences with Monsanto.

  2. As someone who has followed this issue a long time and has heard all of these lies, misinformation and deceptive mind numbing distortions of the TRUTH, it was very nice to read your post. And MAHALO for all of the other blogs you have posted as it is insightful and much appreciated. Keep up the fight with a positive spirit and know that others support you, Dave and the Monsanto Maui, Molokai and Oahu ohana.

  3. Sorry, but no. Farmer’s don’t want to growq GMO’s, but they’ve been bullied and threatened. My family finally went out of farming, because they could not in good conscience be part of this mess any longer, as their livelihood was threatened, in multiple ways.
    It’s a shame you’re spreading more lies, but not surprising, you have quite an investment yourself in this terrible company.

    • I’m sorry your family had trouble farming. I hope they contacted the police and filed a report about being threatened. I know none of our farming family and friends have ever been bullied or threatened into growing GM crops. Any farmers care to comment here?

  4. THANK YOU! We were in Ames for 6 years while my husband did his PhD in the MCDB program and now he’s doing a postdoc at the University of Minnesota in plant genetics… We joke that the biggest thing we’ve learned from all his GMO development and research is that most people are jerks who only care about cool-looking infographics posted on facebook. It’s hard to know how to handle it on our end… We’ve had new friends over for dinner who (not even jokingly) told my husband he was responsible for giving cancer to people like my grandmother. He has had people he JUST met immediately say, “I do not respect what you do.” I kind of want to say: “Figuring out how to feed people? You don’t respect that?” Thanks for handling it so honestly, graciously, and humorously!

    • We’ve had similar dinner experiences in our home. We love talking about the topic, and have plenty of friends who disagree with us, but find the rude comments unnecessary. It’s interesting to hear that you encounter people like that even on the research end of things. I guess the grass isn’t greener on the university’s side of the fence.

    • Seriously, “unko”?? You just read an entire blog post and the only thing you got from it was that Dave grew up on an Amish farm? Or is that just the only thing you could find in this blog worth commenting on?This is a classic case of someone who is trolling behind a computer screen feeding off of the bs hype that’s being created by the “SHAKA” folks. An educated decision cannot be based off of one sided information alone. Get a life, get an education, and think before you speak!

  5. Hi, thanks for this post. I am going to vote “no” on the Maui initiative and share your dismay with the tactics used by some in the anti-GMO movement, but I do have one serious concern. It’s my understanding that the GMO corn (as you say, almost all in the US) has neonicotinoids in it, and that’s what’s killing bees. Neonicotinoids have been banned in a lot of places because of this. Do you know what’s up with that?

  6. I’d love to be a fly on the wall at the dinners you have with your friends both for & against this topic. I’ve done a bit of resurch but to sit across a table & actually hear your family’s thoughts would be a real treat.
    Sincerely,
    On the fence :/

  7. Thank you Rhonda, I met Dave when I was trying to get a grant. I liked him then and I like him now and now that I know you, I like him more. Thank you for your truthful comments and concise way of dealing with the hysteria that abounds. This is not the Maui I know or love. I have reposted your comments on my timeline and am encouraging others to do the same. I hope that people will look at the issues and do what is right. Mahalo nui loa.

  8. Aloha Rhonda,

    Thank you for taking the time to write this piece. I think it’s important for people to understand both sides in order to make an informed decision. That said, I am voting YES, as are the majority of people I know. I do have some questions, however, that I would love your thoughts on:

    -What is your reasoning for why so many other nations require GMO labeling or are opposed to GMOs?

    -What are your thoughts on GMO labeling (which I am aware is a separate issue). If they are as safe as you claim, what is the downside to letting us know what food they’re in? Just like we should know how much trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, etc, is in our food, why not GMO?

    -It’s true that the world population is growing and that we will need more food. What is the objection to promoting small-scale, organic farming, and removing barriers to entry–or even providing tax credits–for people to grow their own food. In short, why, in your mind, are GMOs the answer? (My guess is yield, but in a way, doesn’t large-scale farming only aide the complacency of our future generation in wondering where our food comes from? Why not support small-scale, local farms and encourage a greater percentage of the population to grow their own food?)

    -Native Hawaiians did not need GMO food to survive, and the population of the islands was virtually the same pre-European contact as it is now. I know much of Monsanto’s food is shipped off island to feed people elsewhere (a different topic for a different time), but in terms of local consumption, how does the presence of GMO’s help feed people on Maui?

    -There was once a time we were told nicotine wasn’t harmful. Will it be the same with glyphosate? Agent Orange (I know, the Old Monsanto), has had far reaching health complications which weren’t foreseen. I’ve spent time in Vietnam and have seen all the children with birth defects due to Agent Orange poisoning of their parents. What is the historical “Whoops!” factor we’re working with here, and deep in your heart, can you honestly say that there isn’t a single executive in the biotech world and/or Congress who is willing to cover-up / look-the-other-way in the name of profits and greed?

    -Of all the world’s developed nations, America is one of the least healthy. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, and it’s one of our government’s single largest expenditures (Medicare/Medicaid being used to treat heart disease). Our nation, as a whole, is not a healthy nation. Do you feel that GMO corn that is used to make high fructose corn syrup is really helping America as a whole, or do you think that promoting consumption of organic crops which promote good health would be a better use of resources? The quickest way to save American lives and reduce cost to taxpayers would be to promote a healthier America and lower the instance of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Does GMO produce help or hurt this initiative?

    -Finally, while this might seem like an outlandish point, but if the true desire of Monsanto is to feed the world (in Africa, as you point out), how many Monsanto execs travel to rural Africa and make cash donations to farmers and teach them how to farm? Why don’t Monsanto and biotech execs take their hefty income and then redistribute the wealth amongst the people they hope to serve? Maybe help farmers acquire their own land, or provide easier access to water for farming? If this is truly being done for the good of humanity, how philanthropic are Monsanto’s actions? (read: actual actions–not checks being written with political strings attached). Perhaps there is an organically-philanthropic side of the company I’m not familiar with, and yes it’s off-topic, but as someone who has traveled to Africa, and seen the food shortages, I feel like there is a disconnect between American Monsanto farmers and the people they claim to be helping; the talking point of “feeding the world” seems to be more of a feel-good story that belies the actual intent (which it seems is to reap as much corporate profits as possible).

    I know this is a lot, and I apologize. I’d love your take on some of the above points and if they’ve been factored into your thinking.

    Again, mahalo for taking the time to discuss the matter–as well as for providing clarification–but I will still be voting YES for the above reasons and more.

    • Aloha Kyle,
      Thanks for the comments/questions. I apologize for taking so long to approve and respond. You have some great questions, and I wanted to take the time to look into several of these topics that I hadn’t studied thoroughly. I’ll try to take them one by one.

      Other Countries: GMO labeling required or they are opposed to GMO
      I don’t know why other countries do what they do. As of 2013, 70 countries grow, import, or use GM technology. Only one country in the world bans GM crops/seeds – Kenya. I think many countries are in the process of approval of various seeds, or have said “no” to a certain GM seed, but approved others. I found these two links to be helpful.

      Map of Countries growing/approving GM crops:
      http://gmoanswers.com/public-review?gclid=CM3LoPjqi70CFbFFMgod5xoAmQ
      A more comprehensive answer: http://gmoanswers.com/ask/do-you-know-how-many-nations-really-either-label-or-ban-gmo-food-products-i-cant-find-any

      Labeling: What is the downside?
      Increased cost of food. Living in Hawaii, we know about the high cost of food and we see many families already not able to feed themselves adequately. I often hear the claim that companies change their boxes/labels all the time, so adding a label would cost nothing. That part is true. The rest of the story is in understanding what happens to a commodity after it is harvested. The majority of farmers take their crop to the local co-op and it goes into a huge pile. If it’s corn, it all goes into one place – GM and Non-GM. It then mingles and goes on for processing. Most farming communities currently have one co-op where crops are dropped off, and in order to separate out the two, we would need separate storage and shipping facilities. That’s a lot of infrastructure to handle separating out different types of seed. You can bet the co-op will be passing that cost on to the companies purchasing their commodity. The purchasing company will then process the crop and pass the additional cost on to the consumer. Nothing is simple in this realm.

      This leads into your next question: Just like we should know how much trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, etc, is in our food, why not GMO? Because the things you listed have to do with nutrition. Labels are used in the US only to distinguish nutrition or safety concerns. The 2000+ studies out there giving us a consensus on the safety of GM say we don’t need to label for that reason. There is no nutritional difference between a GM corn kernel and a conventional corn kernel, so no reason to label based on nutrients. That leaves us with public opinion. We have several examples of labeling based on consumer preference or opinion. Kosher is one. An item is labeled Kosher because a certain sector of the population wishes to eat food that is handled in a certain way. Regulatory agencies do not have anything to do with this label. It is voluntary. I’m all for voluntary labeling, and we already have that in the US. Certified Organic already tells you that your food is GM free. Those wishing to avoid GM have that option in our country. Why is everyone worried about making sure the flip side of that coin is labeled too? It doesn’t make sense to me. If it isn’t Certified Organic, assume it was produced using biotechnology. I question why there is such a push for this – could it be Certified Organic producers would stand to make more money via labeling efforts?

      Small scale farming is likely the answer in developing countries. Local farming is also important in the US, but by nature can’t be as efficient. There is debate as to carbon footprint created by small scale vs large scale. 20 small farmers driving tractors and trucks on fields and to market can potentially make a larger footprint than the large guy doing it once but shipping it across the state/country. I’ve heard arguments for both, and I honestly don’t know. I know when I grew for farmer’s markets I went to places that were over an hour away, but with a small load of produce. It barely paid for the gas, but land closer to the city was more expensive. I’m not sure what the answer is. Perhaps a nice mix of big and small!

      Tax Credits: I think there are huge programs in place to subsidize all types of ag. I know when I was actively growing I was encouraged every year to apply for grants and funding. I never did. I didn’t feel I needed it, and I figured others needed it more than me. I was informed every year that they never even gave the money out because no-one applied. I think the problem isn’t on the availability side, it’s on the side of – no one really wants to farm. It’s hard work.

      I never said GM was the only answer. I think it is part of the answer. My background/schooling is in organic (or what used to be called sustainable) farming. I think this, combined with GM technology will present the answer. My goal in farming was always to avoid spray. The more I watched what my husband was working on and accomplishing, the more I was convinced that GM is a great tool for farmers. Check out Tomorrow’s Table by Ronald.

      Why not encourage people to farm on a small scale? Because people don’t seem to want to farm. Rural farming communities are shrinking, kids are leaving the farm. Why do you think they might be leaving? Perhaps because there are so many people and organizations trying to regulate HOW they farm. Do you want people that know very little about your profession telling you how to do your job? Add on all the regulations by the EPA, FDA, USDA, and you have a recipe for young people leaving the farm in droves. If people think that organic is the way to go, let the free market do its job. Organic still only makes up 4% of the market. Farmers don’t yet see that as a draw to all the additional work of being certified. Forcing the public into buying organic through regulations and labels doesn’t seem like the right way to go about things.

      How do GM crops help feed Maui? Well, the seed industry is an integral part of the food system. They grow seed that has a higher yield, and less inputs. Farmers (90% of them) want these seeds and see the benefit of using them. They grow the feed for our animals. I’m not a vegetarian, so that goes directly into my food system/stomach.

      We were told Smokes were safe/Now we’re told GM is safe. This is a great example of a false analogy. First, even if that were true, what does it have to do with GM? Second, I’m not sure anyone was told smoking was safe. This was fun to dig into today. Here is a link to 40 old sales pitches for smokes. http://wellmedicated.com/40-gorgeous-vintage-tobacco-advertisements/ None of them say “Doctors say smoking is safe”. They list on a few that “Doctors choose this brand”. I asked some people in the over 75 crowd if they were ever told smoking was safe, and they said they always knew it was not. They knew the coughing was caused by the tobacco use. Here is a brief history of how the medical community viewed smoking: http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/retrieve/Narrative/NN/p-nid/60. Now somewhere, you may be able to dig up an add from a tobacco company saying smoking is safe, but I couldn’t. This would be like Monsanto holding up a sign saying GM is safe, which of course, they do. Here’s the difference in these analogies, and what makes it an especially false analogy: There was never a consensus by any organization that smoking was safe. There IS a consensus about the safety of GM crops. The World Health Organization, the Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association, and others listed here ( http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2013/08/29/are-gmos-safe-global-independent-science-organizations-weigh-in/ ) all conclude GM crops are safe, as do some 2000+ independent studies.

      Agent Orange? Had to do a little digging on this one as I knew the basics, but not specifics. First, Agent Orange was discovered by a grad student and later developed by the US and British governments. The US chose to follow the Brits example and used it as a tool in combat. They contracted 9 companies to make the stuff, and Monsanto warned the government of the toxic effect it has on humans. The government used it anyway. I don’t think there was any doubt of the dangers of AO. As for the executives, the ones I’ve met, I don’t believe they would be unethical.

      I’m not sure what you are referring to in terms of health. I’d sure rather live here than in certain countries in Africa. We have a pretty good life expectancy. I’d say our problems here have more to do with education on good eating habits and exercise. Promoting organic foods would have no effect on health. There is no real difference between organic and conventional. There are some microscopic differences (sometimes in favor of conventional and sometimes in favor of organic), but not anything that would cause obesity, diabetes, etc. We need to teach people to eat more vegetables. Fresh, frozen, even canned is better than nothing, and to balance this out with a realistic amount of meat (not monster steaks), and limited breads/carbs. That would make a far bigger difference in this world. I don’t think GM crops have much to do with this. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/04/organic-food-health-produce-food_n_1853995.html
      High Fructose Corn syrup? I don’t think it’s any more harmful than any sugar out there. We all consume too much sugar. Back to the education portion of things. Parents and teachers need to teach better eating habits.

      Monsanto executives actually doing something in Africa… This is one I’m excited about. Yes! They do. I personally know one guy that retired at about 55 years of age and started working in Africa with various groups teaching better farming practices. Monsanto has whole teams that work there to work with the farmers (small farms are often run by women), and give their seeds away royalty free. Check out WEMA (Water Efficient Maze for Africa). The Gates Foundation is doing some amazing things there, and seeds from Maui are contributing to this effort. I have heard that many of the executives are involved in this project, and that our friend (another Dave), is not the only one dedicating his “retirement” years to Africa’s food security. As for cash donations to farmers, I would guess no. Give a man a fish – he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will be fed for life. That is the goal.

      Some great videos here: http://www.monsanto.com/improvingagriculture/pages/water-efficient-maize-for-africa.aspx. The people working on Maui hold the seeds that go to Africa – not for profit, but given freely. The Monsanto Fund http://www.monsantofund.org/ is another way that they help farmers. Grants are the appropriate way to give a hand up. Like I said, was not always a huge fan of Monsanto, but over the years of watching, I’ve been very impressed with what they do. No one pays me to write these things, I just do it because I really dislike misinformation, and agriculture is a topic I’m excited and passionate about. All types of ag – organic/conventional/biotech. I want to see all types of farming thrive – the small guys with less than 5 acres, and the big guys. There’s room for everyone at the table, we don’t need to get rid of Monsanto to “make room” for you to start farming. I encourage you to contact the county to rent a plot of land. There are empty fields available for reasonable rates. No one is stopping you from being involved. We need more FARMERS – all kinds!

      • I don’t believe that there is a food shortage. Obviously there’s drought issues in areas of the world and I totally support the GM drought resistant crops. But if there REALLY is a food shortage, why are we using so many resources to make more doritos, candy bars and other junk food? Yeah, maybe with the way the average person eats these days, there could be an issue in the future. But really, we don’t need to be making this much crap to put on the shelves at every convenience store and checkout line. Basically, I think that drought resistant crops are a great idea for places where there’s no other option, and papayas that don’t get all diseased and die are great too. But, that will never be enough. We just need more and more corn and such so we can have more and more snacks. ..ugh. Don’t get me wrong, snacks are great. But you can’t tell me there’s a food shortage. 🙂

      • I can pretty much agree with what you are saying. I don’t see where I mentioned we have a food shortage, maybe I missed it. I know I’ve talked about distribution problems. If we didn’t have limits on distribution, it’s likely that no-one would need to go hungry in this world. The facts are that there IS a shortage of food in a variety of places on earth, just not in the US. In the US, we are shamefully wasteful, and many eat junk. I think the big concern is that our population level is not stable. Another 2 billion people by 2050 is what is concerning to me. I don’t want to see us cut into rain forests. I hate to see urban sprawl cut into farm land (a huge problem everywhere). Everything points to our society needing to feed more people on the same (or less) number of acres of tillable land, all while dealing with a changing climate. That’s a tall order, and I think biotech crops are ONE of the possible answers to this problem. Educating people about better eating habits (more veggies, less Doritos!) is a big part of this as well. Thanks for your thoughts!

  9. That was a well written piece that had good answers to a lot of questions I had regarding the things I read and hear about GMO. So lets assume government agencies cannot be persuaded by money, that people in power are never greedy or corrupt, that Monsanto is not beginning to establish a monopoly on the availability of seed and that the other 99.9% of ingredients that make up the non-active part of pesticides they use are not harmful in any way to the environment. (I’d love for all that to be true, but thats asking a lot.)

    With all that said, my issue with GMO is this:
    According to the core curriculum of my Global Environmental Science degree at UH, most of the global issues we face today, especially climate change, are due to over population of the world. So by using technology to continually increase the carrying capacity of the world as a whole (i.e. increased food production for an increasing population), we are effectively making things worse and worse. More consumers using more resources which means an even greater impact on the environment. Along with this, if we artificially increase the carrying capacity to its unknown technological limit, what happens when one supporting aspect of this increased carrying capacity goes awry/fails/doesn’t work?

    Everything you hear about these days is sustainable this, sustainable that. So it appears to me that we are shooting ourselves in the foot by only exacerbating the issue with creating new ways for the world to have more and more consumers. Just curious on your thoughts about this.

    • I have hope for the future. I hope we can find a way to support a growing population. In the scenario you are describing our only options are mass sterilization or outright euthanasia. Neither are acceptable in my view. I prefer to use the tools we have to improve yield, allowing us to farm more efficiently without sacrificing the rainforest. 100 years ago farmers would never have imagined the yields/acre that we see today. http://passel.unl.edu/Image/siteImages/CornYieldGraphLG.gif This graph shows the dramatic increase from 30 bushels/acre in 1902 to 140 bushels/acre in 2002. This year’s corn harvest will come in around 174 bushels/acre according to the USDA. It’s amazing what technology can do.

  10. maybe you didn’t hear but the chemicals are already found in all the surface water on maui and these chemicals cause heath problems and monsanto does everything it can to cover them up and lie to their employees with butt loads of cash. so shit on your high thrown and kill the people and land and sleep well tonight.

  11. I am just going to say that I have been in the Maui Monsanto fields. I have seen with my own eyes the warning signs posted in every field, the white safety suits worn by workers, and the workers themselves who are covered from head to toe and can barely speak English because they are contracted from the Philippines (nothing against that but they can finish their contracts and go home). I was sitting in my car when suddenly a tractor came up, a man in a FULL BODY white suit including head gear, came through the field spraying something… he saw me and frantically shooed me away…obviously for my health and safety reasons. I have seen the bulletin board with the spray schedule listed with all the chemicals and times. Before I stepped foot on the site I had to sit through a safety class and I had to disclose my camera (no photos allowed). The whole thing reminded me of Clockwork Orange. I talked to management and I don’t think they are out to kill us all. That’s absurd. I do think they believe what they are doing is actually good. And that’s fine. But as a citizen I have the right to think differently, and my thoughts are supported by science and by my own experiences. People have their reasons for doing, or not doing something… and I don’t know you and your husband, who knows, I may have met you at a friends house or somewhere and liked you… but I still stand by my beliefs that the chemicals and pesticides that are being sprayed are damaging the environment and the people. Don’t take it personally, no on is holding up a sign that reads “Dave and Rhonda are poisoning our land”. We are not attacking your husband. I am sorry you are feeling like we are… But my opinion on GMO’s stands strong.

    • Hi Kyle,
      I’m working on it. There were many responses to this article. I’ve been wading through the rude ones and those that are just ads for people’s businesses to find the ones that will add value to the conversation. Yours is one that will, but I like to post a reply at the same time as the comments are approved. You have about 15 questions in there, and while I could fire off a fast response to each and every one, I prefer to research each answer before I respond. Thanks for understanding. I’ll get to it!

      • Yes. Just because a company manufactures a handful of weed control products (I don’t believe they produce ANY insecticides), this does not make it their main focus or business model. Monsanto’s main focus is on seed production, not chemical production.

        Edit 10/29: I woke up still thinking about this question. I think part of the answer as well is that Monsanto (to my knowledge) no longer develops chemicals. In fact, a little research this morning found no new chemicals being developed, but a bunch of work with microbials. Microbials are very important for plant health, and will be useful for both conventional and organic production.

  12. Pingback: A ‘Seedy Business’ For Sure | Iowa Meets Maui

  13. Aloha from Maui–

    I like the page and I am very appreciative and glad you have opened yourself to dialogue with concerned people on Maui. I must say, this is much better than the official dialogue with large companies invested in agriculture on Maui. So, thank you! I also understand this is on your own time and because this is something you care about and NOT an official venue as a representative for any company.

    I am concerned about the fact that Maui, and Hawai’i state has the opportunity for 3-4 growing seasons roughly depending on the crop grown. I am concerned that the practices for traditional crops grown in one season per calendar year are magnified here in Maui. I would assume if the crops are grown three times as much here, then we would be exposed to three times as much chemical use as any other place in the world. The unique growing conditions of Hawai’i would also place the aina (land) and the people at commensurately high risks. I don’t believe the same safety practices for other places in the world would apply here due to this unique growing conditions. What do we know about this?

    Secondly, due to proprietary rights of commercial processes, companies are not required to disclose all the components and chemicals and steps involved in such practices to the public. I am an individual who does not trust anything or anyone without a good demonstration of truth and intention through actions, not just words. This secrecy is very much adverse to engendering trust between myself and the seed companies. The chemicals used that ARE required to be disclosed, to my limited understanding, include atrazine. Now, I understand that the companies operating here on Maui apply these chemicals under the regulated levels, but I worry that those regulated limits apply for one growing season. Here, we have at least three! Are we then exposed to unsafe levels of these chemicals? Atrazine is banned for use in the European Union because studies have shown that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor and wreaks confusion in biological, hormonal systems including effects of changing the sex in amphibians and fish. What do have a lot of here in Hawai’i? FISH!

    I believe these issues are least addressed and that the current regulations are not designed to protect unique and wonderful places like the Hawai’ian islands. Are you able to shed some light on these issues? Does Monsanto specifically have more stringent rules for application here in the unique Hawai’ian islands? Of course, these companies know that we have a different and special ecosystem here, because that is why they are taking advantage of the growing seasons here. I just hope they don’t take advantage of the land and people who live here.

    Thanks in advance for your response. I would love to know if this is a matter that is being considered by our multinational corporate neighbors.

    Mahalo and Aloha,
    David Watkins

    • Thanks for reading David. I love writing on this topic. 15 years ago I would have laughed long and hard had I been told I would be doing this with my free time. It is certainly a labor of love. I’m one that appreciates the truth, and I love digging into misconceptions. I pulled 5 basic questions out of your post, and I hope to cover each.

      1) Growing seasons – we have the possibility of 3-4. Are we exposed to more chemicals that way?

      Overall, Monsanto has quite a bit of land for the amount of growing they do. This allows them to use best practices for soil management. Having continuous crops on a single field can be hard on the soil. This is true for all farms, resorts, and homes. Typically, 1-2 crops are grown on any given acre in a calendar year. A third crop is basically unheard of, and Dave says he’s not aware of it happening on the farm. Only growing 1-2 crops on an acre allows plenty of time for cover crops to be grown, as corn lives about 110 days. Cover crops are incredibly important for soil health and are able to decrease fertilizer application for the following planting.

      I get what you’re asking as far as spray/farming in Hawaii, but this would also be an issue across all farming sectors in areas all around the world. My father-in-law (in Iowa) will grow wheat, followed by soy the same year. I don’t see a difference. I look at lawns, and there is no “down” time like we see in temperate zones. Farmers (really anyone growing anything) have to be diligent about resting the land. All this is a long way of saying, 1-2 crops on an acre per year is on par with what might happen anywhere on earth.

      Every pesticide label sets out rules about use. Without looking up each label from products used on Maui, I can’t give specifics. I know the ones I’ve used in the past have allowed 2 applications in a growing season, at least 4 weeks apart, and no closer to harvest than 3 weeks. I believe some have limits like – ‘can’t spray more often than once every 8 weeks’, or ‘only 1.5 lbs/acre/year allowed’. I suppose if they were growing every acre at all times, you could come up with higher rates of certain chemicals, but this just isn’t reflected in the data Monsanto delivers to the mayor each year. As the OP says, roughly 12 oz of active ingredient per year per acre. That’s a pretty small amount.

      2) Hawaii has unique growing conditions that place us at commensurately high risk, and the regulations that apply elsewhere in the world aren’t good enough for Hawaii. Hawaii is unique and special.

      I guess I first have to ask, are we really that special here? Pretty much all the land mass between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn has similar environmental conditions in relation to how many growing seasons can be eeked out in a year. We’re special, but I think it’s because of the aloha, not so much the growing season. 36% of the world’s land mass falls between the two tropics, so we’re just as special as 36% of the world.

      In light of the above comments, I don’t think there is a commensurately high risk of pesticide exposure in Hawaii/Maui. Honestly, we live across the street from the farm, and I’ve never lost sleep over it. I thought about exposure more when we lived in a farmhouse in Iowa. 90% (or more) of the land there is farmed, and the houses are literally in the middle of fields. We don’t see greater health problems in the corn belt, so the comparatively small amount of pesticides used in the islands is not concerning to me.

      I often hear people claim how they are exposed to “unsafe levels” of various chemicals, typically when in a conversation about a certain company. I have yet to see any evidence of these “unsafe” levels. The safety levels laid out by the EPA and USDA are already 1000 times below the “toxic” level. Put another way, a baby, a child, an adult, could not physically eat or drink enough items containing the maximum allowed level of a given chemical to reach a point where any effect would be seen.

      3) There is secrecy about practices occurring on seed land. Chemical disclosure.

      Actually, Monsanto, to my knowledge, isn’t required to disclose anything publicly. Take for instance Restricted Use Pesticides. I don’t think any current users of RUP (Ag, Golf, Resort, Pest Control, Schools, State, etc.) are required to publicly disclose. Monsanto has agreed to give very detailed information to the county of Maui about their Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs). This is far more than any of the other users have done. They give type, amount used, acres treated and so on for each and every RUP they use. I’ve been impressed with how little Monsanto actually applies. Of the total RUPs sold in Hawaii state (1.3 Million Pounds in 2013), less than 1% of that is used by Monsanto…STATE WIDE! That’s just a crazy small %. Every now and then, we hear of school evacuations due to suspected pesticide exposure. According to the data presented by the HDOA, these incidents have not been due to the seed producers in Hawaii.

      Beyond RUPs, the other products used by farmers are the same products found on the shelves of Ace and Home Depot. If you spend a little time in that section of the store you’ll see much of it is approved for organic use. Actually, you might be interested to know that the active ingredients of most RUPs are available at Ace or Home Depot as well. I think there is a lot of unnecessary fear of chemicals in the world. We had reason to worry in the 50’s and 60’s, before the EPA came along (in the 70’s) and we started learning what those old, “hot” chemicals can do. I don’t think there are any of those used anymore.

      We are exposed to chemicals every day. If you eat a whole apple, you are exposed to cyanide and formaldehyde. Granted, you would need to eat an entire cup of apple seeds, preferably crushed, before someone would die. You munch on those seeds though, you’re exposed to a small dose of both chemicals. Coffee has cancer causing chemicals in it, but a very small amount. Chocolate contains theobromine. It causes cancer and death, but it would take many many lbs of chocolate before an adult would become ill. The tolerance level for dogs to theobromine is much lower, and we all know that chocolate can have a pretty nasty effect (even fatal) for man’s best friend. Everything comes back to “Dose Makes the Poison”, and in Hawaii, we are well below any doses that even come remotely close to affecting wildlife or humans.

      4) Atrazine is used, but is banned in EU, it’s an endocrine disruptor, and can harm fish. Concerned over increased use due to multiple growing seasons.

      I had to do a little digging on Atrazine. First, it’s true that the brand name “Atrazine” is not used in the EU, though it has a favorable safety review with them. It is not banned there. It is used under a different name: terbuthylazine. Terbuthylazine is almost identical to atrazine. ( http://savingtheoasis.com/human-health-safety/found-to-be-safe-by-the-eu ) In specific relation to Hawaii, the Hawaii Dept. Of Health did a large study in 2012 that concluded there is no health risk to Hawaii from Atrazine. The level detected in drinking water has been consistently below the maximum contaminant level of 3 parts per billion. Even if it hit the 3 ppb, a 150 lb. adult could drink thousands of gallons of water containing 3 parts per billion of atrazine every day for 70 years and still experience no adverse health effects. You’d die from water poisoning long before Atrazine poisoning. For real, you can die from water poisoning. I think it’s 6 liters in an hour for an adult. Dose makes the poison, and we are well below the limits of harm to us or animals. For reference, 3ppb is like 3 drops in an olympic size pool, or 3 seconds in 32 years.
      After the above study, the HDOH recommended that surface water be tested and those tests were carried out in 2013. Those finding were also that we are well below the allowed limits. I believe the highest levels of contamination of any kind were found in the streams running through downtown Honolulu. Not exactly an ag area.

      Atrazine has also been determined not to be an endocrine disruptor at any level that could ever be consumed by a human. In fact, it is physically impossible to dissolve enough atrazine in water at a level high enough to effect the endocrine system. When the EPA determines “safe” levels, they also take into account how the product would affect wildlife. (http://www.epa.gov/endo/)

      5) Does Monsanto have more stringent rules for application than what is laid out by the EPA?
      The EPA already has some very stringent rules. When setting an allowable limit, the EPA takes the dose at which a product does no harm, then they look at what a person can realistically be exposed to during a lifetime, say if living near a farm, being an applicator, and realistic amounts of exposure through food. They find these amounts, then divide by (roughly) 1000. So, the only additional limits set by a farmer is going to be financial. That stuff is very expensive, and no farmer ever wants to apply more than is absolutely necessary. They stick to keeping applications low, and following the already stringent rules. By doing this, farm workers are kept safe and the public is kept safe.

  14. Rhonda, absolutely correct!! I served as Director of the Ag Experiment Station at CTHAR for 3 yrs. and as Dean for 1.5 yrs.

  15. If your husband cared so much he wouldn’t be working for Monsanto. As a Chicagoan with a daughter who lives in Kauai, to put it short and sweet, Monsanto and its whole crew should GET OUT OF HAWAII !

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