Hawaiians Win Greater Transparency from Agrochemical Corporations

On Wednesday, June 13, Governor David Ige signed Senate Bill 3095, signaling the passage of landmark legislation for residents and activists throughout Hawaii. "10 years ago we could not even get a hearing for our concerns, so we took to the streets…” says Moloka’i resident and activist, Walter Ritte. “Thousands of us marched on each of the islands, a march each weekend for the month of March.” For almost a decade, this passionate group of residents and activists have fought for transparency on the chemicals being sprayed in fields by agrochemical companies like Monsanto. At a state legislative hearing in Honolulu back in 2013, Moloka’i resident, mother, and activist Mercy Ritte spoke out. “I’m really pushing for laws so that this information will become public,” she said.  “I feel that residents and schools that are in the area need to know what it is that’s going into the air and being released into our atmosphere.” 

Mercy’s efforts alongside the Mom’s Hui Group she founded and other Moloka’i residents like Walter Ritte emerged with a larger grassroots effort that began growing throughout Hawaii in 2013. These mounting pressures led the board to pass bills on GMO crops and pesticide use and achieved increased transparency from Monsanto. Monsanto began releasing an annual report of the restricted-use pesticides used in its fields but did not disclose when and where the pesticides were being used.

Of course, this information is critical.  As professor and crop specialist, Hector Valenzuela said in Abundant Land, “Say you are living on Moloka’i and then there is a spray drift that is coming up… you want to know what is being sprayed at that specific time and that’s, of course, a big question mark, if the companies are willing to release that information.”

The passage of Senate Bill 3095 marks an important moment in Hawaii’s fight against the practices of large agrochemical GMO seed companies. The bill:

  1. Prohibits the use of the pesticide Chlorpyrifos, which has been found to be dangerous to the developing brains of children. The ban will go into effect in January 2019.

  2. Restricts pesticide use near schools by prohibiting the use of pesticides within 100 feet of schools during their instructional hours (7am-4pm).

  3. Requires agricultural companies to disclose when, where, and in what quantities they will be spraying restricted use pesticides in regular reports. This will allow the community to access the information so they can make more educated decisions about their health and safety.

This bill shows how a community of passionate people moved to protect their families, their health and the land they live on can affect major change. “Finally, we get a crack in the dike with this bill, now we need to full court press and get even more meaningful protection from these Chemical Corporations now on our farmlands,” Walter Ritte concludes. There is still more work to do, but for the activists who have been tirelessly pushing for better legislation can finally take a breath and feel hopeful about the future of Hawaii.

By Sophia Daniels, Abundant Land: Soil, Seeds, and Sovereignty