GMO Ground Zero: Hawaii’s Victory Over Monsanto and Friends

GMO Ground Zero - Hawaii's Victory Over Monsanto and Friends 217th February 2015

By  Jack Adam Weber  L.Ac., Dipl. C.H.

Contributing Writer for Wake Up World

On February 4, 2015 the attorney representing Monsanto and other “agricultural and biotech groups” showed up at our County Council meeting here on the Big Island of Hawai’i. She was here to sabotage our GMO ban, which was  heroically passed on a glorious December 5, 2013. As expected, once this legislation was  passed, the big biotech companies sued our county, just as they do every other county and state that tries to interfere with their poisonous profiteering.

As a result of that lawsuit, on November 27 of last year, US Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren overturned the  GMO ban. Judge Kurren’s reasoning was that State law pre-empts County law in this case, and that lawmakers had intended the State, not the County, to have broad control over agricultural concerns on all Hawaiian islands.

Word is that Judge Kurren’s decision is unjustified, and that he bent the interpretation of the law as widely as he could to disavow our ban. Here  is Earthjustice’s lead attorney Paul Achitoff discussing the issue with Hawaii’s  council members.

Soon we’ll get the chance to find out more about this, which brings us up to speed with the context of last week’s Council meeting…

We met with our County Council to testify and then to hear their vote on whether to allow our County to hire outside assistance to fight the lawsuit dropped on us by the biotech corporations. That outside counsel comes in the form of Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff and Center for Food Safety (CFS), who have an excellent track record in fighting for agricultural and food sovereignty rights. In December of 2014 we barely squeaked a 5-4 vote just to have the opportunity to appeal Judge Kurren’s decision. Fast forward a few months later to last week, where we needed a two-thirds vote to win the chance to hire Earthjustice, who by the way, has offered to represent our County for free, save for some relatively minor court fees.

It seemed doubtful that we’d get that one vote required for our two-thirds majority, because the dissenting council members seemed pretty firm in their decision to do anything they could to prevent our hiring of Earthjustice and CFS counsel. The odds were stacked against us. But, just as we had many times before, the activists and concerned citizens of our island showed up to testify. One by one, we went up to deliver our three minutes (each) of testimony, where good people share facts, their hearts, and their passion for what’s simply sane in an attempt to uphold the principles of fairness and community.

The testimonies of others are always an educational and heart-opening perk of attending these meetings. We get to listen to each other’s stories from all over the island. It helps me feel united and bolsters my resolve to keep fighting for what’s right  —  and what’s right is that we don’t need GMO “foodstuffs” on our island, we never have, and no one around the world does. So it’s heartening that, each time we attend council meetings, the anti-GMO and pro-organic testimony outweighs the pro-GMO contingent by approximately  8-1.

I encourage you to watch some of the testimony here. It includes testimony from fellow activist Blake Watson (beginning  at the 3 hours 17 minute mark) and my own testimony  (at 2 hours and 40 minutes). The testimony of Ms. Margery Bronster, opposing the County and representing (among other associations) the  Biotechnology Industry Organization, is included (at 2 hours 2  minutes). It is  also worth listening to councilmember Maraget Wille’s introduction Ms. Bronster (at 1 hour 56 minutes 40 seconds) just prior to Bronster’s testimony.

“I do just want to say that I consider it…  questionable ethically for the attorney on the opposing side to contact directly the clients… I want to just point that out.” ~ Councilmember Maraget Wille

On The Hot Seat

So, out flies Ms. Margery Bronster to try to persuade our County Council against permitting the hiring of representation from Earthjustice. Bronster  claimed that a conflict of interest would be created by hiring  Earthjustice, since they are an advocacy group against GMOs. Ms. Bronster is opposed to the potential intervention of Earthjustice and  she not only  showed up in-person, but she had previously written not one, but two, letters to Hawaiian  councilmembers encouraging them to vote down the measure to hire Earthjustice. Indeed, it was not lost on those present how strange it seemed that an opposing attorney would lend such friendly advice to our councilmembers.

In reality, Ms. Bronster and the biotech companies she represents do not want to have to litigate against Earthjustice and did whatever they could to prevent it. This is arguably  because Achitoff and CFS attorney Kimbrell are excellent attorneys  with a track-record of helping defend other jurisdictions  against the hurts laid down by the GMO industry. By allowing Earthjustice to do what they do best, Ms. Bronster and her associates would surely  lose  commercial ground.

Part of Bronster’s dissuasive tactics included the writing of  cautionary letters, as well as arriving at the County Council  to testify along with the general public  (fully paid by her clients, one must assume). One of our councilmembers, Valerie Poindexter, astutely commented that Ms. Bronster’s cautionary letters were “disrespectful.” In one of those letters Ms. Bronster states:

“In addition to the differing interests of the county and the Center for Food Safety… [Earthjustice’s] interests in pursuing litigation for the sake of achieving favorable legal precedent create a conflict of interest barring legal representation. These problems can be altogether avoided, however, if the County Council simply says no to Mr. Achitoff and permits the Office of the Corporation Council to continue to represent the county on appeal.”  

Apparently, Monsanto and friends’ scare tactics extend as far as  sending their attorney over to our island to dissuade our county  council with misinformation, bad faith, and outright disrespect.

Achitoff, who was tactful enough not to testify in person, responded to the allegations of conflict made by Ms. Bronster in a letter of his own:

“It’s obvious that, considering that Ms. Bronster’s clients want nothing more than to see the county lose its appeal, she is the last person that should be offering legal advice to the county. In fact, it would be unethical for Ms. Bronster to assist the county, since it would directly conflict with her duty to her own clients. In short, Ms. Bronster’s letter is legally and factually without any basis whatsoever, and is nothing more than a desperate effort to avoid having to litigate against us.”

Challenging Ms. Bronster

With the help of my fellow anti-GMO compaigner  Blake Watson, who coordinates the GMO-Free Hawai’I Island group, I had prepared my notes for testimony the night before. But, as so often happens, when I got to the Council office and began listening to others’ testimony, I changed what I want to say. When I heard Ms. Brontster’s testimony I felt I had to respond to it. She was convincing and well-spoken. So, on the spot I decided to scrap my notes and address what Ms. Bronster alleged: that it’s a conflict of interest for the County  to hire Eathjustice to represent its appeal, and changing legal counsel due to a conflict of interest would be costly to taxpayers (which we  decided  was a crock).

I contested that if anything is a conflict of interest it is Ms. Bronster’s arriving here to instruct  our council members not to hire an attorney that she doesn’t want to face. “I think we all know that when people do battle in court, one side does not go out of their way to help the other side,” I said. Another testifier, Moriah Smith, echoed similar consternation regarding Ms. Bronster’s apparent  conflict of interest. Indeed, Ms. Bronster was the pot calling the proverbial kettle black.

I continued  that concerns such as conflict of interest should not be debated in testimony before council, but “sussed out in a courtroom” because “this is a legal issue and no one in this room, including the attorney for the Plaintiff’s, is a judge.” I also took the opportunity to clarify that, contrary to Ms. Bronster’s claims (who used the old chestnut  from the Monsanto playbook, trying to illicit fears over  how much it will cost taxpayers to do other than what Monsanto wants) switching counsel if there  does happen to be a  conflict of interest will not be as costly as she argues. To argue that free legal representation would ultimately cost taxpayers more shows  either  devious or  faulty reasoning. I believe Ms. Bronter  simply tried to scare our council members into submission.

The Good News

The upshot is that Ms. Bronster’s tactics didn’t work. And neither did the other spokespeople who testified on behalf of big business here in on our island. The general feeling at County Council after all was said and done was that, by arriving at  a public consultation process and  issuing demands, Ms. Bronster was out of line,  inappropriate, and  flat out hypocritical. Ms. Bronster put her best foot forward, and in the process, put her foot in her own mouth – and  her clients’ – and we intend to keep it there.

So, at the end of the day’s proceedings, it was time to vote. To proceed successfully,  we needed just one councilmember  to change how they voted in December 2014, when the Council met to decide  whether to appeal the Judge Kurren’s vote. And we got it! That one vote came in the form of Councilman Aaron Chung, also an attorney.

I had been in communication with Aaron Chung during  the weeks leading up to the vote, with regards to a geothermal power plant issue we also have in my district, and I found him to be generous, considerate, and a good thinker. After the vote results were announced, I asked Aaron why he had switched the tune of his vote and he said that he found it hard to justify not retaining free legal expertise with Earthjustice, and that it would cost taxpayers less to retain  them,  that  it would reflect poorly on  the County  authorities if they did  not retain Earthjustice and lost the appeal, and that  hiring Earthjustice would also free up the legal division of County Council to focus on other issues.

So, we got our vote!

I tip my hat to Aaron Chung who had the sensibility and moral integrity to separate his overarching support of GMO agriculture from the more specific issue at hand, which was justifying whether or not to hire Earthjustice, based on merits alone. Councilmember Aaron Chung did the right thing and he is to be commended.

Other councilmembers, I am afraid, were not so honorable. They apparently couched their desire to see the GMO ban permanently overturned in their votes against  the measure to hire Earthjustice. If hiding  their true motive, they uses excuses to justify their decision, in spite of the cost to the community. The list of those who voted “nay”  to  allowing Earthjustice representation includes my own district councilmember, Greggor Ilagan, who repeatedly seems to go  against the will  of his constituents, acting instead with his special interest groups in mind.

We thank the Council members who voted in favor of hiring Earthjustice: Margaret Wille, Karen Eoff, Aaron Chung, Valerie Poindexter, Maile David, and Dru Kanuha. We say no thank you to those who opposed: Greggor Ilagan, Dennis Onishi, and Daniel Paleka.

Now we wait to see if Earthjustice and CFS can win us our permanent ban, and secure  our community’s right to a  GMO-free future. We certainly hope so!

To all of you, thanks for all you do. Continue saying NO to GMO! and to all the other nonsense that is polluting our world. Please give a like to the GMO-Free Hawai’i Island Facebook Page to follow this historic development and learn more about what a small bunch of people are doing on Hawai’i Island to make waves around the world! You can also visit the GMO Eradication Movement page to learn how to stay away from GMOs and discuss issues.

Please take a moment to thank our courageous and honorable council members by signing our thank you note.

And now for a poem, this one titled, “We Will Have to Remember.”

We Will Have to Remember

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Previous  articles by Jack Adam Weber:

About the author:

Jack Adam WeberJack Adam Weber, L.Ac. is a Chinese medicine physician, author, celebrated poet, organic farmer, and activist for body-centered spirituality. His books, artwork, and provocative poems can be found at his websitePoeticHealing.com. He is also the creator of The Nourish Practice, an Earth-based rejuvenation meditation. Weber is available by phone for medical consultations and life-coaching.

You can connect with Jack Adam Weber on Facebook or by emailing  [email protected].

 


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