Shedding Light in the Darkness

How Monsanto Helped Block University of Hawaii Research into Organic Farming


The Center for Media and Democracy published a fascinating report last year on how a University of Hawaii professor was blocked from researching crop farming without pesticides, in a state that is a major center for GMO experimentation. Dr. Hector Valenzuela, a UH professor of tropical plant and soil science, had began a long-term research project to determine whether it’s possible to grow crops in the state without synthetic pesticides.

Valenzuela, who in 1990 received his Ph.D. in vegetable crops from the University of Florida, established the first long-term organic farming research project in Hawaii and the Pacific region.

A Hawaii Department of Agriculture report from 1969 said Hawaiian farmers were using pesticides at a rate 10 times higher than the national average (in terms of pounds per acre).

Valenzuela planted 50 varieties of vegetables — including tomato, daikon radish, bulb onion, cucumber, eggplant, zucchini, bush beans, pole beans, sweet potato and bell pepper — on 2.5 acres at the university’s Waimanalo Experiment Station located some 15 miles from the Manoa campus in the southeast corner of Oahu.

His research came to an end in 1998 when Charles Laughlin, then the dean of UH’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, shut down the organic farming research project. Valenzuela recalls the dean’s exact words: “You can no longer use those plots.”

“I saw the removal of my field laboratory as an infringement of my academic freedom,” he says. “The college prevented me from exploring new methods of agriculture that challenged the college’s central vision about the future of agriculture in Hawaii.”

Valenzuela got in trouble with his superiors, he says, when he provided information to farmers and citizens who were concerned about the potential “contamination of crops, seed supplies, public lands, and native ecosystems by GMOs.”

Starting in 2006, he was banned from conducting organic farming workshops and other events on Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. In 2009, he was told he could no longer give lectures on sustainable agriculture and biotechnology to undergraduate students at Kaua`i Community College in Lihue. Valenzuela’s banishment from Maui was revoked in 2012.

In 2009, the College of Tropical Agriculture appointed Frederick Perlak, the head of operations for Monsanto in Hawaii, to its board of advisors. In a news release, CTAHR said the purpose of the board, formed in 2004, was to establish priorities for “the development of new food and non-food products from farmers in Hawaii.”

In June 2010, one month after Hashimoto denied Valenzuela’s academic freedom complaint, CTAHR received a $100,000 donation from Monsanto for scholarships. Then in November 2010, Monsanto donated $20,000 to fund Gene-ius Day, a program at the college that introduces students from grades 4 through 12 to “basic genetics and the function of DNA.” And in September 2011, Monsanto gave an additional $500,000 to the college, bringing its total donations to CTAHR to $620,000 within a period of a little more than a year.

Valenzuela reported that Robert Paull, a professor at university’s Department of Tropical Plants and Soil Sciences sometimes said people who question the safety of GMO products are “jihadists.”

After Cynthia Franklin, an English professor, made negative comments to Ka Leo O Hawaii, the UH student newspaper, about the donations to the school from Monsanto, she found her email inbox stuffed with what she describes as “uncollegial emails from university faculty accusing me of being ignorant and full of anti-corporate bias.”


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