More than a month after the launch of an expensive TV campaign to persuade voters to reject a Maui County ballot initiative to temporarily ban genetically engineered crops, the Hawaii Center for Food Safety has formed a new group called the Coalition for Safer, Healthier Maui to campaign in favor of the measure.

The group, which is made up of organizations ranging from Wailuku Coffee Company to Living Aloha Magazine, plans to engage in paid advertising, door-to-door canvassing and campaign mailers. The coalition’s website, voteyesforhealth.org, advertises endorsements from groups like the organic cereal company Nature’s Path beneath a large request for donations.

But the communications effort has arrived late in the electoral season and is dwarfed by the work of Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban, a group backed by seed companies like Dow AgroSciences.

That organization has already spent more than $820,000 flooding the airwaves to convince voters that the ballot initiative would destroy the county’s economy and bring all agriculture to a standstill, while simultaneously increasing pesticide use.

Monsanto fields Molokai

Monsanto fields on Molokai. The island of Lanai is seen in the background.

In reality, the economic impact of a moratorium is uncertain — Monsanto has not said whether it would shut down or even downsize — and farmers who use conventional seeds would be unaffected.

Rather than banning farming outright, the ballot initiative calls for a temporary moratorium on genetically engineered crops until the county conducts a public health and environmental health study. It is unclear how long that would take.

The pro-GMO commercials have run on five local Hawaii TV stations during shows ranging from Judge Judy and Wheel of Fortune to college football.

During the week of Oct. 13 alone, Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban plans to sponsor more than $66,000 worth in advertising on KGMB during news hours and shows like Entertainment Tonight.

Ashley Lukens, director of the Hawaii Center for Food Safety, said that the new coalition has so far raised less than $80,000 but that the nonprofit felt compelled to take action because of “mischaracterizations” in opponents’ TV advertising.

“We weren’t planning to be very involved in Maui but the level of advertising is threatening our work statewide because it so misrepresents what the ballot initiative is and paints a really inaccurate picture of what regulating chemical companies looks like,” she said.

She’s not sure whether or not the coalition will be able to create their own TV ads, but hopes that regardless of what happens with the Maui County voter initiative, residents will be educated on the need to regulate the biotechnology industry.

The Coalition for Safer, Healthier Maui has registered with the state Campaign Spending Commission as the Center for Food Safety Maui Fund. Its disclosure report is due on Oct. 27, a week before the election.

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