A Passion for Papaya is Not Propaganda

A Passion for Papaya is Not Propaganda

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Dr. Marion Nestle referred to the film Food Evolution as “propaganda” and the other activists like Zen Honeycutt and the Food Babe are jumping onboard.  This implies that the content was misleading, and meant to affect opinions using less-than-honest means. I was really shocked when 45 academic signatories wrote the letter calling the film propaganda from the agrochemical industry.

I’m glad to offer you a taste of that propaganda, or should I say, papaya.

The film’s first part shows a horrible battle that happened here in my home state of Hawaii.  Non-farmers and well-financed mainland activists wanted my family to abandon a technology, the virus-resistant papaya.  The papaya was made resistant by genetic engineering, and it was done by universities and government to help the local papaya farmers. It was not the “agrochemical industry”.

Mainland activists riled up local agitators by carefully crafting a massive fear campaign in our communities and manipulated a vote against the papaya. Claims were made that it was poison, it caused tumors, it was increasing pesticide use and more diseases in the industry.  None of this was true, but in fear of retaliation, the majority of the council voted to ban it anyway.

The Food Evolution film crew was in Hawaii because it was the important national story at the time. They covered the story in great detail and presented it as it unfolded, giving plenty of time to the papaya’s opposition.

It also shows how farmers pushed back, and Margaret Wille and the County Council then grandfathered the papaya in, even though they believed (the propaganda) that it was carcinogenic and harmful.

They were caught in a hypocrisy when one tells the public improved fruits are dangerous but then exempt them with pressure.  This is fact.  This is hardly propaganda. The papaya works, it saved an industry, and is outstanding technology.

So it is very disappointing to me that Nestle, Pollan and 45 others go on record calling this story agrochemical industry propaganda, when it is a far cry from the truth.

It is especially disturbing because many of the people that refer to my family’s livelihood as propaganda are graduate students and professors. It seems like a bad career move to call the chronicling political resistance to successful technology agrochemical industry propaganda.

It is even more troubling that these are students and professors that claim to be in favor of small-holder family farms and sustainability.  The papaya allows my family to sustainably produce a local staple that would be gone if it was not for the technology.

If I was a student or faculty member I would think carefully before signing my name to a movement laden with false claims. It seems like the academic road is very difficult today, and when a search of your name shows you standing up against technology and small family farmers, it seems like a short-sighted career move. Your name on that letter symbolizes the rejection of science and the benefits it can have for small family farms globally, who face climate change and it’s consequences.  Do you really stand against that reality?

If you ever are over in the islands please let me know and I’ll personally introduce you to our “giant agrochemical industry”, which is me, my family and two dedicated farm workers, growing a delicious and valued fruit. The movie Food Evolution told our story, our fight, and our ongoing success very accurately.  I would think very carefully before calling my family’s reality throwaway propaganda.

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Joni Kamiya–The Hawaii Farmer’s Daughter

Listen to the Farmers Representative Wooley

A few weeks ago at the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board meeting, I had the chance to talk in person to Representative Wooley.  She mentioned that we can contact her as to what laws she’d like us to consider for the upcoming session.  I decided to take her up on it and sent her this email tonight.  If you’d like to share a word or two with her you can contact her at repwooley@gmail.com or repwooley@capitol.hawaii.gov

Aloha Rep. Wooley,

I spoke with you the other night at the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board meeting and would like to take you up on the offer as far as what kind of legislation I’d like to see regarding agriculture in Hawaii.
As a daughter of a long time farmer and farming family for nearly 4 decades, I really think that as a leader, Hawaii needs to consider the bigger picture.  Your statement to me that we need to change the meaning of agriculture is very disturbing because for Hawaii. It is not only food that needs to be grown here.  We have many other thriving industries here from seeds to nursery plants and other non-food crops that would not fall under your umbrella definition.  If we want to grow more food, just going after the seed industry isn’t going to solve the problem.  As a leader, I would hope that you could see that.  That is a very linear way of looking at the problem which ultimately never solves anything.
If the goal is to grow more food in Hawaii, we have to look at all the issues that affect why we aren’t more self sufficient.  Look at the whole system to address the best way to reach the intended goal.  When you look at those issues like energy costs, labor, supplies, land issues, and the other factors, you can have a better view of a more holistic plan of solving this issue.  The problem has to be solved systemically.  Your simple solution of changing the meaning of agriculture to growing of food and asking for label for biotech food does nothing to make food more likely to be grown in Hawaii. It places a line between farmers and that is not what is needed.  As a leader for the agriculture committee, how can you best serve the farmers, not just a certain faction of them but all farmers?
Does siding with one kind of farmer do anyone any favors?  No, it doesn’t.  You as a leader need to band together all farmers to solve these problems.  That is the responsible thing to do.  Where does the research and evidence lead to?  That should be your guide through all of this.
I must also note that your broad statement that there is no regulation about GMOs is patently false.  If that were the case, why is it taking such a long time to get through the process to be approved?  I’d really appreciate it if you’d be more honest when talking about the issues.  You know darn well that there is many tests that have to be presented before anything is approved by the FDA, EPA, and USDA.  You may not be happy with the process, but don’t state outright lies about the issue.
I’m counting on you, as well as many the younger generation of farmers, who are hesitant on whether or not to continue family farms in this current environment.  They need to know if you are really going to be a proponent of agriculture and education and plan to secure the future of ag technologies in Hawaii since you stated that there will be an education campaign.  It may not make you popular to your activists but do the responsible thing for the real people who work and support agriculture in Hawaii.

Hawaii SEED Wants to Destroy Papaya Farmers

The Hawaii SEED version of Greenpeace photo shot.

Walter Ritte and his Hawaii SEED group are definitely helping farmers deal with issues, especially with papayas.  They are spending lots of money to test for GMO “contamination” so they claim but what have they done to solve the real problem that was happening?  *Crickets*

They did nothing.  That’s right, literally nothing. When farmers were getting hit in the 1990’s by the ringspot virus, they were no where to be found.  Nada, not around nothing.  Here’s what Hawaii SEED has to say about themselves: 

Hawai`i SEED incorporated as a non profit 501(c)(3) in September of 2005.

The corporation is organized for charitable, educational and scientific purposes to educate the public, government and business community about locally-based agricultural systems that create real food security for Hawai‘i and about the risk posed by certain agricultural and food systems while protecting human health and the environment.

Activities of Hawai‘i SEED include bolstering the community of sustainable farms and farmers throughout the state of Hawai‘i. By providing workshops to farmers, we hope to deemonstrate alternatives to genetic engineering. Hawai“i SEED facilitated the public testing of papayas for citizens throughout the state to determine if their fruit is contaminated with genetically engineered organisms.

Hawai‘i SEED also conducts general outreach to raise awareness about genetic engineering and alternatives to genetic engineering at public speaking events, and media outreach. We also give presentations to agricultural and other community groups about GMOs and their alternatives.

Note that they are not about research and contributing to agriculture but more about blocking what has been done with papayas.  What is even more disturbing is this statement:

While the GMO Papaya is resistant to papaya ringspot virus, it brought many more problems than it solved. The GMO Papaya has closed lucrative export and organic markets and always has a low price point. This technology has come with too many strings attached and Hawaii has lost almost half of its papaya farmers.

This group constantly touts anti-GMO wording like contamination and so on to disparage papaya farmers and wonders why papayas don’t sell well.  They proudly proclaim how they help test for GMO papayas but what good is that?  Why not spend that money creating your non-GMO virus resistant papaya if you really want to have sustainable agriculture?  

Then Hawaii SEED has to go on complaining how Hawaiian papaya is not being accepted in the worldwide market.  Um, if you’d stop spreading untruths about it, maybe more consumers would not be so afraid of our Hawaiian fruit.  Support all papaya farmers and maybe you can sell it better to help all farmers.  Hawaii SEED is not about doing farmers good, they are about taking things away like all activists.  They contribute nothing to Hawaii agriculture.  That’s the bottom line with these folks because it is all about taking and not giving.  

This group is a far cry from local folks too as we know it is being funded by outside contributors big time.  The truth is that Mr. Ritte enjoys his papayas and doesn’t care if it is GMO or not because he knows that it is fine.  Remember the March ag day Mr. Ritte?

GMOs Banned in Hawaii!

November 2020

Ban-GMO

Hawaii has succeeded in becoming the first state of the nation to completely ban all GMOs .  It comes after a long battle between politicians and their activists and big ag in the state that started back in 2013 with two key bills being passed by county council members.  The early roots of the GMO ban started when a moratorium was passed against any research of the taro or kalo.  Subsequent efforts were started in thanks to Jessica Wooley and her Bill 174 to label GMOs which eventually failed to pass.  However, thanks to the efforts of Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum with Bill 2491 and Margaret Wille and Brenda Ford with Bill 113, subsequent laws continued to follow to suit to limit and eventually restrict biotechnology across of our islands.  Tulsi and Mike Gabbard also were successful at the detrimental labeling of GMOs too which helped to lead to more consumer fear and misinformation, despite their promises to the farmers for an educational campaign to support it which never failed to materialize.

Meanwhile, during all of this furor of anti-GMO sentiment, our sustainable agriculture industry has been suffering many set backs over the years leading up to the eventual ban.  Many local industries have been hit very hard by the lack of tools and technology left for them to remain at the helms of their farms. In a recent survey, the number of farmers had dwindled down to less than .5% of the population and shows no stopping the declining numbers.  As a result of these kinds of restrictive laws placed on farmers, imported food has risen to 98% which was an unintended consequence of these laws due to the black marketing campaign of the organic industry and public pressure on politicians.

Below is a summary of what has happened over the years to certain ag industries in the Islands:

Kona Coffee

The Kona coffee industry has suffered tremendous losses since the initial introduction of the coffee borer beetle (CBB).  It was hopeful that the spraying of Beauvaria Bassiana would control for this beetle.  It worked to minimize the millions of dollars worth of damage being done but it was found that the CBB has developed a resistance to the B. bassiana within a 5 year period that was discovered by a farmer after finding more and more of his crops destroyed.  The industry has also been hit by the spread of coffee rust around the islands due to the recent increases in hotter weather and drier conditions leading to more plant stress on the coffee trees.  The entire coffee industry is at 20% of what it used to be and is mostly being sold as high end niche market products due to the rising costs of production.

Honey

Unbeknownst to the the local beekeepers on the Big Island, the spraying of B. bassiana had a devastating effect on their bee population.  Recognized by the Xerces Society as being highly toxic to bees, the overspray of this organically approved pesticide had residues that affected local bees.  The honey production dropped significantly as the lack of biotech research was banned and the already threatened bee population declined even further with the varroa mite and then increased pesticide use.  Honey is no longer being produced on the Big Island as a result of the demise of the bees.

Papayas

The papaya industry has been completely obliterated by the passage of Bill 113 and the successful lobbying of Tulsi Gabbard’s labeling law passed at the federal level.  Just as Japan was starting the importation of Hawaiian papayas and farmers increased production, the misinformation being spread by the labels caused a tremendous drop in domestic sales across the country.  The demand for the fruit dropped to a mere 10% and took a tremendous dive.  The lack of education as promised by our Congresswoman failed the industry and Hawaii no longer exports papayas as a result of her labeling effort.  Mexico has now become the dominant leader in papaya exports to Hawaii and the mainland US which has had several problems with salmonella contamination and multiple recalls and illnesses.

Pineapples

The pineapple industry has also taken a huge hit in production due to the banning of biotechnology as an imported pest from Mexico caused huge crop destruction across the islands.  With limited ability to use modern pesticides and biotech advances, the entire Hawaiian pineapple is just one a faint memory of our rich agricultural heritage in the islands.  The only fresh pineapples are currently being imported from South America as the state is no longer able to produce these cost effectively.

Kalo

The kalo has also become extinct in our islands also.  With the recent introductions of new pests from imported produce from China and Mexico, as well as the recent prolonged dry spells.  The taro has suffered multiple set backs despite the efforts of the farmers to mitigate the stresses of disease and pests.  The moratorium on the research of taro and resistance to revisit the bill was not removed in time to save the taro from its fate.  The Hawaiian staple of poi is no longer available as a result of the lack of tools and acceptance of biotech to help combat the demise.  Currently, taro is being imported from China and being researched on how to create a similar substance to that of poi.

Cattle 

The once growing demand for locally raised beef was undermined by the efforts of the multiple anti-GMO bills passed in the islands.  Ranchers who’s livelihoods were continuously attacked for their use of GM feed have found that they no longer are able to continue their profession, as the the cost of ranching severely impacted their ability to remain financially viable.  Local milk production has also ceased operations also and all milk is imported into the state due to the high operating costs resulting for the GMO bills.

Other impacts and unintended consequences of the GMO ban:

After initially opening up the UH Cancer Research Center, the ban on GMO inadvertently blocked all research on the latest cancer treatments that were GMO derived.  Scientists and researchers’ works were completely halted as the ban covered all of organisms being used in the state.  Just as they were on the verge of finding a treatment for breast cancer focusing on genetic modification, the attorney general concluded that such research was considered illegal under the law.

The cost of food production rose 30% following the ban due to increased enforcement and regulation on the determination of genetically modified food. GMO food stuffs had strict requirements and testing was enacted as a result.  Testing of the quantities of modified foods were the major reason behind the rise in food costs.  In addition to Hawaii already paying higher food costs, the costs are approximately 40% greater than costs on the mainland.  Poverty rates in our islands has increased from 17.4% in 2013 to nearly 25 to 30% due to the high costs of living factored in.

With the lack of big ag on former cane and pineapple lands, the sustainable organic ag industry supported by small organic farmers has taken a great toll on the capability of the state to manage the current infrastructures.  Land leases to these small farmers have had to rise to help cover the costs of maintaining ditches and water tunnels used for the ag areas.  Pest management has also become a problem due to the fragmented systems utilized by these small farm plots.  Farmers have also had decreased sales as the rising production costs cannot keep up with consumers ability to afford locally grown products.  The infrastructures presently in place have significantly deteriorated as a result of the system change resulting from anti-big ag bills being passed.

The loss of big ag has also affected a key educational system for the native people in our state.  With the lack of reliable tenants on the large stretches of property owned by Bishop Estate, Kamehameha Schools has had to decrease the amount of student aid being provided to existing students and discontinue educational programs being supported by those leases.  Bishop Estate has had major losses of revenue on evictions of these small farms that could not pay market prices for ag property.  They have also suffered losses for covering the maintenance of the existing infrastructures in place that small farmers are not able to bear the burden of.  Many Hawaiians are now on waiting lists to get access to the programs that they were once eligible for.

The recent closures of the seed companies on Kauai has had an especially devastating effect on the island.  Unemployment has resulted in drug use, property crime, and other crimes have tripled as the companies have transferred operations to foreign countries due to intense regulation.  Small organic farmers have tried to use the former seed lands and due to the lack of financial backing have not been able to keep up with rising lease payments to cover infrastructure maintenance.  Due to the inconsistent practices of small farmers and a lack of integrated pest management, yields on these farms have been very poor leading to smaller production.  Inconsistent soil management practices have also led to severe run off problems from the fragmented farming systems created.  Pesticides residues of organically sprayed chemicals have also been found in schools and hospitals at significantly higher levels due to the lack of regulation on these farms.  New reports of skin, asthma, and allergic reactions have been increasing as newer studies are finally testing these pesticides against humans.

With the loss of agricultural lands, the barren farms have been a developers dream come true as more homes and infrastructure plans are in the works.  Due to the isolation of Lanai and potential for power generation, a nuclear power plant is likely going to be built there to power the entire island chains affordably.  The increase of homes in Kauai has also led to the building of the next biggest freeway system in Hawaii, H4.  The Big Island has also had a huge growth in housing and larger freeway systems are in the plans to be developed.  There has been a boom in the construction industry here with the lack of agriculture.

One of the biggest and most detrimental effects of the ban of GMOs is the huge brain drain occurring in our islands.  As the biotechnology sector grows in both the agricultural and medical sectors, the outlook for students pursuing  these careers were bright prior to the ban.  The occupational diversity of our state was glowing prior to the politicians’ decisions to ban this growing sector.  Currently, the major industry in the islands remain in the tourism sector primarily and the lack of more skilled opportunities have led to yet another brain drain effect.

The constant sense of threats and disrespect up until the enacted ban on farmers have cause many farmers to cease participation in farmer’s markets.  Many live in fear that they choices that that they have used to farm has put them up as targets by the activists that were first seeking a label then a ban.  Many have decided prior to the labeling that the farming business is no longer worth it anymore with the added stressors of the activists.  The farmer’s markets have dwindled as the local food supply is dropped dramatically as a result of protesters and activists bullying tactics to farm according to their demands.

So although at the time these regulations seemed like “common sense,” the unintended consequences of this strategy has left many current leaders and a growing number of local people asking themselves, “Where did we go wrong?”  What was supposed to be the “right” thing at the time, has not created the vision that it was intended to do.  It was to create an affordable and sustainable food supply for our state according to what the organic industry was touting as the right way to proceed.  How do we get off the wrong path and get back on track and how do we reverse the permanent damage done?

If our ag industry continues to be badgered and splintered the way it currently is heading, this unfortunately will be the likely consequences of our present actions.  Hawaii can avoid this predicament that is highly likely given the nature of the situation now.  Leaders have to think prospectively and consider the evidence presented to make responsible laws, not ones based on “common sense” and public opinion.  If you don’t want to face the scenario presented, then we must change our path now before it is too late.

The Anti-GMO Club Needs a Lesson in the Golden Rule

Remember as kids were were taught in school the Golden Rule?  I think that once again we have to go back to small kid time and remember that simple rule that kept the world more peaceful and civil.

The anti-GMO activists might benefit from taking a lesson in walking in another person’s shoes.  Remove those Monsanto goggles for just a few minutes and think on your own two feet.  It might do some good here.

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Imagine being a long time farmer.  We’ll call you Farmer Aloha.  Farmer Aloha’s parents and grandparents did it and now you have taken on the farm.  Your family has a proud heritage of farming and you want to continue it.  Well, one day, some disease crops up in your orchard and little by little it destroys it.  All that work you did to plant it, nurture it, are all gone despite much of an effort to control for this disease.  In a matter of months,  your entire family farm is decimated.  You are  pretty darn sad and depressed.  You don’t make a whole lot of money from farming but this is your life’s passion.

Soon, Farmer Aloha gets word that research is being done to help solve this disease and possibly restore your crops.  It is a glimmer of hope of continuing the family legacy to help bring back your farm.  You go on for years without a farm, taking on a different job, but it is in your blood to farm the soil and land.  You try different crops but the very one you want and love is still out of reach.  All your long time loyal workers and customers are at a loss because your farm is gone.  They know you and your product well and want it back.

Eventually, the research turns out be that hope indeed and within several years, you slowly start up your farm again.  Many years and tons of testing was done to get the fruit ready for market and then there is a press release that is sent out with very little hullabaloo.  No one really pays attention to it at the time.  So many a happy customers are glad to see their beloved fruit again from their favorite Farmer Aloha in the stores.  Your business continues to regrow again bit by bit from the initial losses that you are still recovering from.

All the meanwhile, a bunch of radicals starts to get together and decide that this new fruit of Farmer Aloha’s is the next best thing to protest and target.  These folks start hooking up with each other and start telling each other many a stories about this thing they don’t understand.  It is just too scary to consider that science can change plants.  The anti-Aloha group consists of a fringe scientist, surfers, sociologists, bus drivers, hotel workers, green people, lawyers, etc.  Because there are hundreds of ill informed frightened people around, the masses grow.  Even some of the politicians are fearful of the technology and don’t do their own research on the issue.  These people just believe and refuse to accept the evidence.  Pretty soon thousands are believing that Farmer Aloha’s crops are indeed a threat.  The small minority of other farmers and scientists are amazed at this horrible hate and wrath of misinformation.  If one of them should speak up, they instantly are targeted by the anti-Aloha club.

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Then comes the advent of the internet and the filth spews even more across the world.  More hateful things are being said all over the place and everyone and their grandma is saying the same thing about Farmer Aloha.  The hate is all the same things being said over and over but Farmer Aloha continues to work for your faithful customers and clients.  It gives you pride to be able to continue to feed them.  You hope that this issue will settle down in time.

Farmer Aloha decides to support other farmers too by going to the Farm Fair. You serve up thousands of samples of his delicious sweet fruits.  Lots of people appreciate it and will say so.  The true local people of course come up and pleasantly ask for a sample first and then take one.  Then come the anti-Aloha people who come up very defiantly and lift their noses up and ask, “Are these GMO?”  To which Farmer Aloha states, “Why yes they are.  Please enjoy a sample.”  Some of these anti-Aloha folks tip their noses to the air and stiffly walk away quite snottily or some crouch down to hide this special sweet sample and savor it secretly.  Other fearful anti-Aloha people will come up and say, “You are selling poison!”  That person starts going off in front of others clamoring for samples and eventually gets pushed away.  He never notices the weird looks that others are giving him.

Because of Farmer Aloha’s support of this new technology, the disease pressure is reduced and almost obliterated.  The anti-Aloha people discover that farming is the new thing to do after moving to Hawaii and start their own farms.  With no disease and a lot of people fearing Farmer Aloha’s fruit, they can sell aloha-free fruit to these folks.  These same anti-Aloha folks proudly go about the social media to talk stink about Farmer Aloha and his workers and family.  They even put their faces to their comments too so that you know who they are!  They even posted really mean and nasty comments on a picture of your kid wearing his aloha fruit costume too!  These anti-Aloha people are everywhere on the social media bombarding the whole conversation.  No one is listening to you, Farmer Aloha.  You are not even part of the conversations.  And that is where our stories ends at the moment.

So, lesson from this story is have you ever heard of Farmer Aloha ever saying something derogatory to these anti-Aloha farmers or even posting nasty comments on their farming pages?  Or has Farmer Aloha ever gone on the record to tell these anti-Aloha farmers how to farm and what to grow?  No, never, ever because he’s too busy working on his farm.  Farmer Aloha is all about aloha and education.  The anti-Aloha farmers and their club members are famous for this kind of behavior and tactics.  Easy to find all over the place sadly to state.  We have never seen any Farmer Aloha stooping down to that level.

Simply put, what if people started protesting organic foods?  Then spreading nasty rumors about the dangers of organic foods and scary pictures of what it can do to you?  Then it would make people really scared and irrational about this food that they consider organic.  The organic farmers would be subject to hate and unkind remarks as well as harassment over the social media and at farmer’s markets.  This would go on for years and years with no end in sight because more and more people start to believe these rumors as truths.  And what if that pretty green organic label incited fear in people to cause them to not buy it based on marketing of misinformation?  What if consumers started to demand the right to know how your grow and demand a label if it was fertilized with manure and had the potential for fecal contamination?  Would the organic farmers support it?  Then, would they like it if there was an organized march against them called MAO, March Against Organic?  I doubt it.

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I think that if we have others walk in the shoes of the farmers they are protesting and directing their hate and harassment at, it might just shed a different light on where and what we need to do for agriculture in Hawaii.  How would you like it if your livelihood was being targeted for completely baseless reasons?  You would not like it either!

The golden rule is no longer taught in Hawaii schools but there is something new called the 5 Rs that the anti-Aloha club might want to review in the conversations around agriculture and farming.  This is the direction that Hawaii agriculture has to move towards…  One of respect, responsibility, resourcefulness, relationships, and resiliency.  That is the future!

5Rs