Spike in Rate of Birth Defects In Hawaii: Who Is To Blame?
Genetically modified corn helps resist pesticides, spelling financial growth for farmers but, on the downside, it might be harming the unborn children in their mother’s womb. For more than 3 years and through 4 different attempts to curb these chemical giants responsible for such birth defects, nearly 10,000 people marched recently through Hawaii’s tourist district to protest against the perpetrators.
For pediatrician Carla Nelson, the sight of pale newborns having severe heart malformations is now a routine matter. In three years, she has seen four such severely malformed babies and the number is nearly 10 in all of Waimea. According to Nelson, such a high rate of birth defects (which is nearly 10 times that of the average national rate) is highly abnormal.
Many doctors, apart from Dr. Nelson, suspect that the culprit responsible for these birth defects are the chemical Companies producing Genetically Modified corn which is grown in 4 of the 6 main islands of Hawaii. While these chemical bigwigs claim that their GMO corn is responsible for the prosperity and economical growth in the region, they completely deny playing a part in these rising illnesses and birth defects. It is no wonder that doctors in Hawaii are finding themselves in eye of the GMO corn storm which has been swirling for over 3 years now.
It is because of this storm and 4 failed attempts to rein these companies, an estimated 10,000 people marched through Honolulu’s Waikiki tourist district on 9th August 2015, with placards stating: “We Deserve The Right To Know! Stop Poisoning Paradise!” and “Save Hawaii! Stop GMOs!”
The sheer number of people who gathered for this demonstration show how frustrated the residents are with the situation. Waimea is a small town having 12000 acres of land leased by the 4 giant chemical companies (DOW, BASF, Syngenta and DuPont) from the state mainly for growing corn. These companies provide employment to nearly 200 people for growing corn which is mainly exported to the rest of the country. Remaining of the town’s economy is supported by a trickle of tourists who stop at Waimea on their way to spectacular tourist spots in Hawaii.
According to a report by the Center For Food Safety, these 4 chemical companies actually spray nearly 17 times more pesticides apart from herbicides and insecticides than that sprayed on other cornfields in mainland USA. (You can read this research report here). The report also states that nearly 18 tons of banned chemicals like Chlorpyrifos, Paraquat and atrazine (all of which have been completely banned in Europe ) have been used since 2012 in Hawaii. Additionally, the WHO recently deemed RoundUp-the brand name for chemical Glysophate-as possible human carcinogen.
Waimea is characterized by low lying and hilly areas. The reddish brown and perfectly furrowed cornfields of Waimea lie on the hillier parts and the areas where the corn actually grows are green-yellow. Both-the reddish brown and the green parts are sprayed every few days. Even when the fields are barren and devoid of crops, they are sprayed to deter the growth of weeds and other plants. This is explained by Professor Hector Venezuela of University of Hawaii in simple terms as “You need sterile soil to grow either test crops or seed crops”. When the spraying is being carried out, the wind carries the chemicals down slope and harms residents- many of who complain about stinging eyes and headaches. Says special education teacher Howard Hurst, “Your eyes and lungs hurt and you feel dizzy and nauseated all the time”. He also said that the state average of children needing special education is 6.3 % whereas nearly 10% students need special ed in Waimea. He goes on to say “It is hard not to think that pesticides do not have a role to play in this”.
It is interesting to note that the main hospital of the town is run by Dow AgroScience former chief lobbyist at Honolulu and that it has never studied the effects of pesticides on patients. Moreover, all four chemical companies refuse to fully disclose the list of chemicals they actually use, insisting they are all safe. The executive director of Hawaii’s Crop Improvement Association also claims that they have not seen credible sources of statistical information to support the claim of the link between rising birth defects and chemicals used for spraying the fields.
Pediatrician Nelson is alarmed about the fact that the neighboring schools have had to be evacuated twice due to pesticide drift, and that the American Academy of Pediatrics has documented a link between child birth defects and pesticides (read it here). But what concerns her and most doctors involved in this storm is the fact that the area these chemical companies use for testing various varieties of chemicals has doubled to 25,000 acres. Once the testing is done, these companies sell seeds as well as the chemicals they are resistant to farmers.
The Government is showing residents that it is “concerned”. It recently appointed a 2 member team of physicians to study these claims. However, most activities are skeptical in that; they feel “it is another exercise in obfuscation”.
Perhaps the only positive thing that has resulted of the failed attempts of past three years (of getting chemical companies to divulge information about what they are spraying and also create buffer zones for testing chemicals) is the fact that a fact finding study group cum panel has been established. This panel is aptly named Joint Fact Finding Study Group on GMO and the pesticides of Kaua’i.
Some politicians are also on the side of the residents. LG Gary Hooser elected back in 2012 has been doing his homework ever since. In the process, he discovered for a fact that the 4 chemical companies are exempt from many federal rules as a result of which they blatantly discharge toxic chemicals in the water. With the help of the council, Hooser has made it a law that companies should disclose yearly what they grow, where they do it and also announce what pesticides they will spray.
An emergency room doctor of the town’s hospital lamented the fact that the heads of Agriculture committees have closer relationships with the chemical companies than they do with the environmental groups. As a result, drafting failsafe bills is difficult given the fact that the State does not have the political will to stand up to these chemical companies.
Read the entire article here.