HONOLULU – Hawaii is often thought of as a paradise-like vacation oasis for its world-renowned beaches and natural beauty. The islands are full of lush green landscape and an abundance of fresh fruit. What many people don’t know is that over the years, agriculture in Hawaii has shifted from mainly sugar and pineapple into the seed industry.
The U.S. dominated seed industry of companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and Dow operate out of Hawaii. This agrochemical-seed industry that boasts sole rights to specific seeds that prevent other farmers from planting them has become extremely privatized and exclusive.
These companies continue the legacy of imperialization of the Hawaiian Islands by buying out agricultural land, reasoning that the location is ideal because it is within the U.S. and that the weather is ideal for growing year round. Operating under the boundaries of the U.S. is especially important to the businesses because it protects the patents and because the U.S. lacks many regulatory laws surrounding agriculture that many other countries enforce, such as barring specific pesticide use. Additionally, because of the past emphasis of exporting sugar, the agricultural infrastructure is already established, making the land ready to start producing the seeds.
While the agrochemical industry has taken off and has created tremendous economic turnout, there are many reasons for concern. The takeover of the islands by the industry has pushed smaller agricultural businesses out of the land, flushed the land with pesticides and redirected water use distribution. Concerns about the marine ecology and environment unique to the Hawaiian Islands are long lasting and may impact tourism revenue in the long term. However, more global issues arise from the specific policies surrounding the agrochemical seed industry.
Policies such as tax breaks and incentives, intellectual property rights, land acquisition and “trade secret” protections have dangerous repercussions. These policies put too much focus on the business side of agriculture, and less on the diversification of markets and globalization. As these major companies continue to reap the benefits the government is offering, despite costs to the public, they grow in power, making developing countries more dependent on these companies and less self-sufficient.
Currently proposed international agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, or TPPA, further propagate the monopolization of the industry by these big business seed companies. The agreements push for higher allowance of banned chemicals and pesticides on U.S. foods and further protect information on ingredients and potential dangers from the public.
These companies continue to grow with the help of the U.S. government despite the costs to the international economy and health of people worldwide. As these big businesses find an ideal hideaway in the Hawaiian Islands, they gain more economic power and political push, despite their invasive nature and the dangers they pose.
The advantages and disadvantages of genetically modified food products are still ambiguous and understudied. The short-term effects on land use are credible cause for concern but it is also worth noting that there are a number of supporters that credit the technology with the ability to feed the world of underfed people. However, the policies surrounding the companies dominating the industry may not be ideal for helping reduce global hunger, with strict patents and protections. The policies specific to these major players in the agrochemical seed business are walking a very thin line of encouraging business and creating debilitating monopolies that could further restrict other developing countries from competing on a global stage.
– Emma Dowd
Sources: Hawaii News Now, Huffpost Hawaii, Capital Press, Reuters