Science & Technology

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.