Victory Over Toxic Chemical Farming…for Now


By Zen Honeycutt

In a stunning turn of events, Maui’s Alexander & Baldwin co. announced on Jan 5th that it is “transitioning out of farming sugar” at its Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. plantation and they are closing down the toxic sugar operation. They will be diversifying crops on the 36,000 acres and laying off or giving early retirement to about 300 people due to an expected decrease in profits.
One must wonder if the GMO activists, healthy food advocates, concerned citizens about herbicides, and movies such as “Sugar Conspiracy,” “Fed Up,” and “The Secrets of Sugar” have something to do with this decrease in processed sugar sales.

Despite the layoffs, Maui residents are thrilled that the cane burning will stop. This means an end to the toxic smoke filled air over schools and homes from the burning of glyphosate-sprayed sugar cane fields. This means an end to the aerial spraying over the cane fields, reportedly containing atrazine, which drifts into residential areas. Glyphosate and atrazine have been deemed probable carcinogens and have been linked to birth defects and numerous health issues. This type of poisoning in Maui will stop.

This news comes only six weeks after my trip to Maui to report on the GMO and toxic chemical farming practices and speaking about the Right to Health. This news is truly triumphant for grassroots activism.

Report on Chemical Farming in Maui:

Normally, one goes to Hawaii to escape reality. I went to get a dose of it, to document and to share what is happening in Maui so that the spread of GMO toxic farming will stop.
I interviewed activists, mothers, politicians and farmers about two major causes of harm from the overuse of pesticides; GMO open air test plots and chemically sprayed sugar cane field burning. Just this week I also connected with activists working on the roadside spraying of glyphosate In Hawaii. The Paradise of the Pacific is being inundated by synthetic and harmful chemicals. The biocides used in GMO and chemical farming kill life in the soil, leach into groundwater, to the people who live near the test plots, and drift downwind from the  cane burning which was conducted nine months of the year.

In November of 2014, Maui voters won a major victory. They stood up for their rights and passed a ballot initiative calling for a moratorium on the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops and the pesticides used in the industry until an independent study can be conducted. They simply called for the industry to prove that they are not harming the environment or the people of Maui. Although the opposition spent over 9 million dollars (only a fraction of this would have been spent on the testing) the public won. People on the mainland and around the world rejoiced. We relished the triumph as if it were our own.Their success inspired our entire movement.
The GMO seed industry responded by suing Maui county to prevent the enactment of the measure and in June, a sympathetic federal judge ruled that the county did not have the authority to protect the people. The SHAKA Movement, a powerhouse group of activists based in Maui, that wrote the ordinance is now appealing that ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
I was there on the one year anniversary of their win to begin a new chapter with them, to announce the movement’s new message–that people have more than a right to know what’s in their food, they have a Right to Health. It was an honor that has forever changed me.

From the air, as the plane began its descent, I was shocked to see farms so close to homes. In a farming community 40 years ago, this would have been a wholesome scenario but in today’s world of chemical farming, this scene is disturbing.
When I got off the plane, my concerned deepened when I felt the brisk trade winds blowing across the island isthmus and I imagined chemicals drifting into the bedroom windows of the children and families near the chemical test plots. This fear has recently been confirmed: residents have tested swabs from surfaces inside their homes; chemicals such as 2,4-D and atrazine are a clear and present danger.

Glyphosate-sprayed and burned sugar cane fields

Beth Savitt, president of the Shaka Movement, whisked me straight from the airport for a tour of central Maui. Not only did I see seed industry test plots for experimental corn varieties, I realized there were numerous sugarcane fields across the street from a children’s center and steps from the front doors of homes. These fields were harvested every two years and before they were burned, they were dusted with a variety of glyphosate.
Glyphosate, the active chemical ingredient in Roundup and 700 herbicides, has been deemed a probable carcinogen by the WHO and is acknowledged by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a “reproductive effector” causing “liver and kidney damage.” Studies also show glyphosate is an antibiotic, which leads to destroying gut bacteria, allergies, asthma, autoimmune disease and weakening the immune system. Glyphosate is a chelator, causing mineral deficiency which can lead to cancer and lowered IQ.  When glyphosate destroys the gut bacteria, the body’s ability to make Tryptophan or Serotonin , which regulates insulin, is compromised. Balanced insulin is needed to prevent diabetes. The cost of diabetes will bankrupt the US health budget in 12 years if we continue at the current rate, according to “Secrets of Sugar.” This chemical should be no where near our children or neighborhoods.

I was not surprised to learn that Maui has high rates of asthma and allergies, especially among school-age children. Perhaps you have seen pictures that have circulated around internet showing plumes of smoke covering school parking lots. Many children go to the hospital on the days of cane burning. This happens whether the fields are across the street or miles away due to the trade winds. When the parents of hospitalized children complained to the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH), and showed pictures of ground level smoke, they were told that “what you are showing is not “smoke” it’s “smell.” There’s a smell all right, it’s the smell of a dishonest department that is failing in it’s obligation to protect the public’s health.

Note: Glyphosate was last approved 22 years ago and is supposed to reassessed every 15 years. The EPA recently informed me that their assessment has been delayed until 2016. This will be seven years of studying one chemical that they continue to allow in public domain!

GMO open air test plots

Maui island is one of four islands with extensive seed industry operations. The others are Molokai (part of Maui county), Kauai and Oahu. According to a study by the Hawaii Center for Food Safety (HCFS), there were 1,124 open air field test sites for GE crops in Hawaii in 2013. In comparison California, one of the largest agricultural regions in the world, had 184 plots during the same period.* The testing conducted includes traits to increase chemical tolerance, meaning more and more chemicals will be able to be sprayed on these food and feed crops, increasing pesticide drift, soil and water pollution.

On Kauai, one company reported applying 90 pesticide formulations each containing 63 active ingredients.* Over a six year period, 65% of the days this company sprayed the open air test plots with up to 16 applications daily. *

After my initial field tour of Maui, we visited the community of Hale Pilani, 500 feet from Monsanto’s GE open air test fields which is continually subjected to pesticide drift. Tammy, a mother I spoke to, reported having headaches and her children developing asthma shortly after moving into this community. Yet, Alexander and Baldwin (A&Ba), the company that owns the sugar lands, has approval from Maui planners to add another 600 homes right beside the current homes and even closer to Monsanto’s experimental fields.
Just this week, reports of swab testing from surfaces inside the homes of Hawaiian residents showed pesticide residues such as 2,4-D. GMO test plots should be no where near any homes, ever.

As we were shooting film In Hale Pilani, we saw DOH personnel and HC&S workers resetting the health department dust particle meter. Apparently it was set to 10 and it should have been at 2.5. There are only three meters regulating particle drift for the entire island. The dust particles are particularly important to measure because they carry with them chemical residues. The nearby homes have red dust covering their sidewalks and front yards. New reports from “Maui’s Dirty Little secrets” show that the chemicals have now been found in bedrooms, kitchens and windowsills inside Maui homes. I was glad to learn that the mother, Tammy, that I interviewed earlier is intending to move.

The animals and sea life of Hawaii cannot know to move however, and many species that have thrived for thousands of years, such as the Hawaiian Duck are now on the endangered list.* Sea Turtles are being reported to be riddled with tumors. In some areas of the island it is eerily silent. There are no birds.

Chemicals in the Ground and in the Air

Atrazine is a known sex hormone disruptor and listed as a Restricted Use Pesticide (RUP) list in Hawaii. Banned in Switzerland where it is made by Syngenta, this RUP is used by all the seed companies but used lavishly in planting Maui’s 36,000 acres of sugarcane; state figures show. 64,938 pounds were reported to have been used in 2014 alone. Over 906,000 pounds of restricted use chemicals were sprayed in Hawaii in 2014.*

This figure does not include glyphosate because it is still considered safe even though the World Health Organization has deemed it a probable carcinogen. Locals reported that the chemical companies have successfully petitioned for laws to be changed so that they can spray these chemicals even in 20 mile an hour winds. It is sprayed on cane fields and along road sides frequently.
27 schools in Hawaii are within one mile of the restricted use pesticide test plots.*
I have grave concerns about the field workers who spray these crops and their families who are more exposed than the downwind homeowners.
When I asked about the safety of the workers, more than one of the people interviewed shared that many contract employees are imported from South East Asia.
The advantage to the chemical companies is that if or when the worker develops health issues, those health issues are not documented in Hawaii and are not their financial responsibility.
The birth defects and cancer of the residents are also not being properly documented. Although several doctors in Kauai reported a 10 fold increase of birth defects, there is no state data base collecting such info.

The babies being born with gastrochistis, when the intestines are outside of the body, are often sent to the mainland for surgery and care. Therefore the condition is not logged in Hawaii and proper records of the increase of birth defects are not being recorded.

The reality is that Hawaii is being sold a poor bill of health so that the rest of the world will buy into GMOs and toxic chemical farming.

Think of it. The New England Journal of Medicine, and Consumers Report’s Food and Safety Center as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics all acknowledge the harm from pesticides, especially to children. Yet federal and state agencies continue to allow widespread use of these biocides that pollute our soil, water, air and neighbors causing untold them to harm. In ruling in favor of the seed industry and against the health of Maui county’s people and environment, the federal judge refused to consider evidence of harm, ruling only that the county did not have the authority to protect its citizens.

The people of Hawaii are prevailing however, they will not be stopped. Their love for the Ain’a–respect for the life force of the land that nourishes them–gives them an unshakable strength to continue to fight for their right to health. In Hawaii and around the world, we continue demand that all our officials put the health of our people before the profit of the toxic chemical companies.

Regarding the latest news of the HC&S closing, Maui activists are concerned about the future plans for the land. Alexander & Baldwin has reportedly made deals with Monsanto. Will the new crops be GMO and will the poisoning continue? Or will the people of Hawaii prevent further poisoning our of the Ain’a, the land, water, and air, “that which feeds us”?

Zen Honeycutt
“Right to Health” presentation in Maui Nov 13, 2015 sponsored by the Shaka Movement. Video link by Keith Ranney
*Statistics and data from the Hawaiian Center for Food Safety report “Pesticides in Paradise”
Interviews and documentary will be posted as avialable on