GMO Food

Death Threats After Hawaiian Mayor Vetoes Anti-GMO Legislation


Rainbow papayas

In October, I went "In Search of Frankencorn in Hawaii" and reported, among other things, that the Kauai County council had just passed legislation placing a number of restrictions on the farms that grow biotech seed varieties on the island.

Last week, Kauai's mayor, Bernard Cavalho vetoed the legislation citing a legal analysis that found that Kauai did not have the authority to pass such a bill. All hell has broken loose.

Even before the latest outbreak of activist rage, some pro-biotech researchers who had testified at Kauai hearings on the safety of biotech crops had received emails wishing that their family members would die of brain cancer.

Over at the Genetic Literacy Project, Jon Entine follows up on the veto with an article, "Kauai Anti-GMO 'Witch Trials' continue, as Mayor Faces Death Threats for Bill Veto." Entine compares the anti-GMO folk's fears to the reactions of the anti-Witch campaigners back in 17th century Salem, Mass. He makes a pretty good case for the comparison:

In the 17th century, women in and around the Massachusetts town of Salem were arrested, imprisoned and often tried because a majority of the populace, or an outspoken minority that intimidated others into remaining quiescent, took the law into their own hands. There was no empirical evidence that the accused were in fact witches; people just believed it was true. Emotions ran wild. The episode marks one of the nation's most notorious cases of mass hysteria, and stands as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, extremism and false accusations—and the substitution of emotion for science….

Although some may believe that suggesting parallels with the fringe elements of the anti-GMO movement in Kaua'i is strained, I would push back. I faced a barrage of over-the-top anger when I visited the islands for a week in August in an attempt to engage islanders in rational, fact-based discussions about the issues. I saw no Aloha when it came to discussing GMOs—and all of the finger pointing and hysteria came from one side and one side only: those who believed, with religious-like fervor, that GMOs posed an imminent health and safety danger to them and their children. The scientific consensus clearly contradicts those hysterical claims, as heartfelt as they may be….

The mayor now literally fears for his life and anyone who dares speak out on behalf of science faces public ridicule. If you are a farmer who grows or supports the growing of genetically modified crops, such as Rainbow papaya, you face a real possibility that your farm will be vandalized and your business destroyed.

Sadly, these frequent outbursts of intolerance have become staples of the anti-biotech movement on Kauai'i and increasingly on the mainland. Web pages like GMO Free Hawaii and Occupy Monsanto-Hawaii are repositories of vitriol and hate.

Shame, shame on the ideologues who make their livings from engendering baseless fears in their fellow citizens of a safe and highly beneficial technology.

NEXT: FBI Monitored For Years in Error

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  1. Oh FSM I’m so tired of these anti-GMO new age crystal healing nutjobs.

  2. These people are insane. It’s a perfect example of anti-corporate demagoguery evolving into something even more unhinged.

  3. I need to go to Hawaii to see for myself.

    1. Yes, the Reason Foundation should fund an expedition.

      1. I had best go along and be the Kona Coffee taster….you know, for safety.

      2. At the very least a Reason cruise to Hawaii instead of the Bahamas would work.

  4. For those who don’t know, Kuai is not quite civilized. Death threats there are probably just as much hot air as here in the states. However for each nasty emailer there’s at least two cousins who wont bother to electronically warn their victims in advance.

  5. The hysteria is settled.

    1. Hey now — science only counts when talking about global warming. For GMO, science is in the pocket of evil corporations.

  6. This is all about science, right?

  7. We all know that GMOs cause retardation and cancer and autism and Gaia-death and earthquakes and kill the bees and the butterflies and are warming the planet…

    … and the only reason there don’t seem to be more of all these things happening is because of our constant efforts to oppose them.

    Because the widespread brain cancer ™ is only a generation away…

  8. I would say that it more resembles the anti-vaccination campaigns of the early 1700s.

    In that time, the ‘liberals’ (among them Ben Franklin*) strenously opposed the pro-vaccination establishment (among them the Mathers, who seem to be demonized by everyone.)

    *It is a measure of Franklin that he later had the grace to admit he was wrong.

    1. But Franklin could never be on the wrong side of Science! Not against fundies like the Mathers.

  9. The papaya does not belong in Hawaii. It is a foreign fruit! For fuck’s sake, even the first Polynesians to populate the islands brought taro, yams, sweet potatoes, coconuts, chickens, rats, pigs, dogs with them. But not the papaya.

    1. First Generation Immigrants = Natives
      Second Generation Immigrants = Foreign

      1. first generation of immigrants are now called “first arrivers”.
        Nothing was ever original to Hawaii it either floated their or was brought there by man or sea or bird.

        1. What about the bat? Surely the bat brought something. Why do you hate bats?

          1. European Swallow or African Swallow?

            1. Ni! Ni! Ni!

            2. Funny enough. Neither. Hawaiian records from Midway are of Hirundo rustica gutteralis, which is of Asian origin. Only one record exists from the main islands and it is of Hirundo rustica erythrogaster, of North American origin. So to rephrase the question: Asian or North American?

        2. On a somewhat more serious level, it’s kinda funny that a lot of things associated with Hawaii like mongoose, geckos, cockroaches, orchids, ABC Marts, the macaroni and mayo portion of your plate lunch, Filipinos, Jack Lord, Magnum PI, etc. are all exotic imports.

          1. You forgot Spam.

          2. Take that back asshole. Magnum PI is the native Haole son. You’ve been brainwashed by Jake and the Fat Man and Lost.

        3. Native Americans aren’t, either. Call them Bering Strait snowbacks.

  10. Hot air or not it is still unacceptable. I’ve been the recipient of comments and emails that wish I would kill myself or fall victim to violent crimes like rape and murder, but no one has ever actually threatened to kill me themselves.

    Setting aside the unacceptable behavior directed toward the mayor while not intending to minimize it,…..-by-mayor/
    has a less rage-inducing summary of the legislation and what it covers.

    While expressing outrage at unacceptable behavior like death threats, if your intent is to discuss the science and not the unacceptable behavior, it is best to concentrate just on the science and then concentrate on how to stop the unacceptable behavior in a separate conversation. Mixing the two will only result in clouding the science.

    1. The problem is, the attempt to rationally discuss the science gets drowned out by the unacceptable behavior.

      I’ve given up on most anti-GMO people. I had a friend who was seriously anti-GMO that I tried to have a conversation with. I asked good faith questions about the science behind saying GMO is bad. He pointed me to studies that a cursory Google search show to be thoroughly discredited. They just shout things like “MONSANTO!!!!” at you after that. Confirmation bias is strong with these types.

      1. I have decided that my standard response to the “BUT MONSANTO!” line is going to be: “Monsanto has saved vastly more lives than Carson, Erlich, Commoner, Suzuki, Greenpeace and the entire rest of the ‘environmental’ movement ever have.”

        Of course, that will probably provoke aneurysms amongst the anti-GMO people.

        1. No, don’t be silly. That won’t cause aneurysms. It will cause their cognitive dissonance filter to activate and force them to scream louder. This is emotion, you can’t let facts get in the way of that.

          I once posted an article about Dr. Norman Borlaug, who literally has saved billions of lives with GMO. Billions, with a B. His work with creating drought resistant crops has saved those people in third world countries from starving to death.

          The friend that I posted about previously said something to the effect of “what good is not starving to death if they all die of cancer anyway”. Yeah. That’s the kind of response you get. You give data showing the billions of lives saved and get hyperbole and irrational ranting in return.

          I swear that cognitive dissonance filter is a thing that exists in CAGW supporters and anti-GMO nuts.

      2. news sources will solid reputations like Nature and National Geographic say that as far as we know the GMO that are available to consumers are safe. Even food activist Michael Pollan says they are safe. I have concerns about Monsantos business practices and their IP bullying and I don’t like the risks drenching fields of roundup resistant plants poses to non-modified plants, but GMOs are proven fairly safe so far. The risk of runoff of pesticides and herbicides are about as serious as animal waste run off for the poultry and hog industries. If anti-GMO people can’t calmly consider the opinions closer to their side than pro-GMO people then discussing the science is probably going to be fruitless.

        From the death threat perspective, I am under the impression that anti-GMO people want to at least appear to be ethical so they need to discourage death threats to demonstrate it isn’t just for the sake of appearance.

  11. Go to GMO Free Hawii’s facebook page, scroll down a little bit, and look to the left. I bet you didn’t know that sea salt and baking soda cures radiation exposure and cancer, did you, huh, you pro-science idiots@!!!!!!11112

    tells you all you need to know

    1. I thought it was granola that cured cancer.

  12. Meanwhile, Halliburton execs today drink fracking fluid =


  13. Someone vetos your junk science bill that seeks to stigmatize foods you have a problem with (for no logical reason) and you send him death threats?

    Oh, and somehow I’m the one who isn’t responsible enough to carry a concealed weapon.

  14. It’s nice to see how “tolerant”, “open minded”, and “pro-science” lefties are. /sarc

  15. I almost hope one of these nutjobs goes ahead and kills someone so it can permanently discredit the entire movement.

  16. I have family members with food allergies, some of which we are still trying to isolate. We have to be very careful what we purchase and eat. What is wrong with a simple requirement that prepared foods be labeled when they contain GMO ingredients? All that needs to be added to the label is a parenthetical (GMO) after the name of the ingredient. For example: High fructose corn syrup (GMO).

    Poof. Done.

    1. What is wrong is that because you have family members with food allergies, you want GMO labeling. Why would GMO corn syrup be different from non-modded in terms of your family’s food issues? Are they allergic to individual genes now? Please explain the evidence that modified corn is different allergenically than non-modified.

    2. How about we label ALL food “altered by mankind at some point in its history”?


      1. This is uncalled for. Calling someone a moron does not lead to rational discussions, it just injects more emotional energy into the conversation and that never helps.

        Labeling rules are a pain and making the required changes has an added cost that can’t be ignored when coming up with this kind of legislation. Of course with all the money the food companies have donated to defeat labeling legislation they could have funded compliance for smaller companies. However the food companies do have an interest to keep the GMO labeling from going into effect. People who don’t understand how things work are probably just going to avoid anything that says GMO no matter if it is beneficial or if it has some detrimental effects.

        However the Kauai legislation was about land use and not labeling. People were concerned about pesticide and herbicide run off and cross contamination though I don’t think there is a corn crop on the island to contaminate, but I could be wrong. From what I’ve read it is extremely unlikely, like impossible for the transgenic mutation to affect different species of plants outside the lab.

    3. How about you download the free app that will do this for you–all without forcing anyone to do anything?

  17. Although State enforced labeling is the wrong way to go, it seems that too many of you are too eager to jump to the defense of State protected corporate interest.
    The long term effects of GMOs is not known. This statement is often countered with the claim that no adverse health effects through consumption of GMO foods have ever been documented , but I think this observation is irrelevant in the greater context of long term social and environmental effects.
    To make a genetically modified organism, three main components are required: the gene you want to transfer, the organism you want to put it into (target species), and a vector to carry the gene into the target species cells. The genes of the organism and subsequent generations of the organism are permanently altered outside of natural adaptation processes.
    In laboratory conditions, with isolation from a greater genetic context, the GMO may be perfectly safe. Once these genes sequences are introduced into the environment, however, their effects quickly become completely incalculable. Am I the only one here who thinks that cutting and splicing genes together from completely unrelated organisms may be a bad idea long term? It took eons for them to come about in the first place.

  18. Imagine a level of complexity akin to the operations of the market.
    We all know the adverse effects of centralized economic planning. Print some money here. Set interest rates there. The attempts to prop up housing values, subsidize industry, and dictate one half of every transaction through a single authority are not only ineffective, they are downright dangerous. Maybe short term they are beneficial for certain ends, but long term?
    What we encounter in both of these areas is the problem of economic calculation. In complex systems, be they economies or ecosystems, the blowback of decontextualized manipulation is beyond the scope of human understanding.
    These measures are usually implemented in a misguided effort to bring predictability to an unpredictable world. It is ultimately impossible to insulate from the effects of statistical outliers.
    Naturally arising resilience to herbicides in weeds found around Roundup Ready crops is a good example.

    1. “the blowback of decontextualized manipulation is beyond the scope of human understanding.”

      This sounds an awful lot like Irreducible Complexity. Just because something is complicated and isn’t thoroughly understood at the moment doesn’t necessarily mean it is beyond human understanding.

      GMOs have been in the consumer market for almost twenty years now with the introduction of delayed ripen tomatoes in 1994. That’s almost two decades of research that suggest GMO are safe to consume.

      Do you think we could sustain the current world population without large scale monocrop cultivation? We still need to be vigilant, but I see no reason to stop GMO cultivation or research.

      I think the Kauai legislation was intended to provide protection for other property owners from pesticide runoff and crop contamination. The Mayor vetoed it not because he disagreed with it, but because his legal advisers suggest local government did not have that kind of power to enact such legislation.

      1. Do I think that current population could be supported without monocrops? Do you think we could sustain the current world population without central economic planning and central banking? The two questions are interlinked.
        Highway infrastructure and mass shipping came about as state subsidy of centralized industry. Favored players. The modern economy was built on Crony Capitalism. The food production infrastructure currently in place relies on the same systems. Hell even with these systems in place, would Big Ag even survive without taxpayer subsidy? How would society and the market be different with all this wealth in the hands of those who produced it? How would people’s choices be different? In a completely free market, there would be massive changes in the way business is done. Most likely few to no mass producers. No more miles and miles of monocrop or cheap Chinese plastic crap. Very low levels of debt on average. Market based currency. Even alternative forms of energy.

        1. And regarding your reference to irreducible complexity, all I’m highlighting is the fact that the possible long term problems are not observable in the laboratory, given the fact that researchers are tampering with not just the genetics of a single organism, but a piece in the genetic strata of an ecosystem. Statistical outliers are not predictable, or even apparent for long periods of time. They are the primary source of the most drastic changes, however.
          Another thing I realized today as I was walking my dog is that the greatest incentive to create GMOs is IP law. Without the ability to patent novel genetic mashups and charge exclusively for them, the only viable form of seed would be ones bred naturally for desirable traits. Can’t patent nature. Can patent tech. That simple.
          And I do not think GMO research should stop. Within a laboratory setting. But I for one, do not want to be part of a corporate experiment. And I also see no reason to trust the judgement of corporations whose existential goals may be directly opposed to mine.
          And one more question. The article seems to communicate that the crops being cultivated are simple hybrids and not GMOs. Is that purposeful obfuscation or am I just confused?

          1. And by beyond comprehension, I wasn’t referring to the GMOs themselves, but the cascading consequences in the overall system as a result of their insertion. Maybe comprehension was the wrong word. Beyond predictability may have been a better choice.
            And in this case, there is no need to be limited by strict scientific logic. Just think outside of the experimental framework for a second: Jellyfish genes in corn. Insect genes in wheat. Spider genes in goats. Can you honestly ask the question, “What could possibly go wrong?” If the answer is yes, you’re just being disingenuous.

        2. I don’t really know the answer to that question, but I do know that the infinite growth paradigm based on fossil fuel inputs and fiat currency is going to meet with the hard brick wall of reality at some point quite soon.

  19. Destruction of biodiversity in ecosystems burdened with monocrop cultivation only serves to reduce systemic resilience. Dependence on intensive fossil fuel inputs and depletion of watersheds are also results of this type of food cultivation.
    The plants that many people call weeds serve a purpose in the ecosystem. Eliminate them and you have removed a crucial step from the cycle. The ability to grow food, long term, does not come from energy inputs, but from the health of the soil. Neglect this fact and the well is poisoned. But I digress.

  20. Regarding the claim the GMOs have saved billions of lives, this is an unprovable hypothesis. Are there not processes by which the genetic stock of an organism can be altered to meet your needs without replacing plant genes with those of poisonous insects? If you need a drought resistant crop, look in the genetic stock of the crop you are growing, and breed for the desired alleles. If there is no natural way to breed for growth within a certain environment, do not plant it. very simple. Find naturally occurring alternatives, or open borders and allow badly affected populations freedom of movement.
    The perceived need for GMOs is predicated on a flawed understanding of natural systems, in regard both to economics and farming.
    The State cannot solve these problems. Not by forcing the labeling of GMO foods, or by implementing a nightmarish agenda 21 vision. But the fact still remains that it is foolish to try and fight against nature. You can redirect the flow of natural forces, but you cannot fight them.

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