Hawaii, Kaua’i Island. Heaven on earth. Or hell. Gary Hooser, 64, of Hawaiian descent from California, is not afraid to challenge the big food companies. Starting with Syngenta, Dow, BASF or Dupont. He accuses them of poisoning the local population by spreading huge quantities of pesticides near schools and homes. Journalist Paul Koberstein is adamant: “Kaua’i is America’s most toxic agricultural environment.”
Due to the climate, the location is ideal for testing GMO seeds and pesticides. Three harvests per year are possible. Pesticides are used in Kaua’i between 250 and 300 days a year. Difficult to know more. Agro-business giants wallow in silence. Residents of Kaua’i had to make a formal request using the Freedom of Information Act to learn that in Hawaii 22 kinds of pesticides are used. It is on this theme of contamination of the environment, social responsibility of multinationals and the right of citizens to be informed that the Film Festival and International Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH) organized a debate on Tuesday.
Also read: Swiss farmers sick of their pesticides
With his NGO Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (Hapa), Gary Hooser mobilized the community of Kaua’i. It suffers from the side effects caused by long-term exposure to pesticides. It is not easy to have proof of direct causation, but clues abound. In children attending open schools, acute respiratory problems that required hospitalization have increased. “According to pediatricians and obstetricians, the number of birth defects has increased tenfold. This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics supports us. ” The first victims in Kaua’i are quickly found: the inhabitants are mainly ethnic Hawaiians and a working class population. For Eric Chivian, a professor at Harvard Medical School, this is nothing less than “environmental racism”.
Residents of Garden Island (Kaua’i) have tried to pass a bill requiring Syngenta and other multinationals to have buffer zones between homes and crop fields as well as full transparency on the products used. But faced with the millions of dollars these companies poured into politicians as well as schools, a hospital and the community to buy their silence, they lost the fight. Gary Hooser notes: “These multinationals mainly hire immigrants for three or four months. It’s impossible to know if they had any health problems. They also do not feed the Hawaiians. Most of the corn grown here is used to produce ethanol and feed livestock. Hawaii continues to import 90% of its food. “
Our editorial in November 2017: Pesticides, the evaluation fiasco
Empty chair policy
Implicated in the film Poisoning Paradise of Keely Shaye Brosnan broadcast at FIFDH, Syngenta preferred the empty chair policy during the debate. Or almost. Facing Gary Hooser, Hank Campbell, recommended by Syngenta but not speaking on his behalf, represented the industry as president of the American Council on Science and Health, an organization funded by large multinational corporations, including Syngenta. “Nothing that is advanced in this film is proven by science.” With an outrageous self-confidence, Hank Campbell will let go: “The modern world is not that bad. Thanks to technology, the first generation of very poor people can afford to be obese. ”
Contacted by The weather, Andrew McConville, communications manager for Syngenta, explains the absence of his company: “We decided not to participate in a forum which, in our opinion, was not going to allow a balanced, honest and realistic discussion on the farmers’ access to technology. ” Stating that Syngenta Hawaii was taken over by the American company Hartung Brothers in May 2017, Andrew McConville said that the company scrupulously respects human rights: “Our industry is among the most regulated in the world.”
Gary Hooser doesn’t believe it. He and his friends filed a lawsuit in 2017 against Syngenta and the state of Hawaii. He almost left Kaua’i with his family. “I have been the target of multiple attacks from professional industry paid bloggers.” However, he sees a ray of hope: pesticides are no longer sprayed near schools. “Dow Chemical is even going to build a $ 12 million greenhouse to now conduct product testing.”