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PERFECT TIMING: ‘The Daily Show’ films GMO segment in Kona

The Big Island’s battle about agricultural biotechnology, aka GMOs, is about to go pop culture.

Correspondent Al Madrigal and producer Ian Berger from Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” were in Kona this week shooting a segment, Comedy Central spokeswoman Renata Luczak confirmed Friday. The popular program does a satirical take on the news.

“It’s a field segment and field pieces don’t have an exact air date. When they come back to New York, they’ll edit it and figure out when it will actually air,” Luczak said.

Luczak said she didn’t know what the subject of the piece was, but County Councilwoman Margaret Wille confirmed she was interviewed and the subject was the county’s ban — with some exemptions — on the open-air use and open-air testing of genetically engineered crops. She wrote the bill signed into law by Mayor Billy Kenoi on Dec. 5.

“They came over to check out some Big Island that closed the door on some little multinational chemical companies,” Wille said Friday.

Wille said she was contacted two weeks ago by the show’s producers and her interview took place at the Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay.

“I thought they asked good questions,” she said. “And they asked questions about what’s going on on Kauai and other islands — questions that I asked. What is the science here? … The pro-GMO people are saying that (the anti-biotech movement) is based on empty science, when they’re the ones who want the exemption from doing scientific studies for health and safety and prevent those who want to do independent studies from obtaining the information they need to do independent studies by way of the patent laws. And anyone who does independent studies, they do their best to discredit them or buy out the operation.

“They also got into the origins and what’s going on now with the entire federal, state, local — the home rule issue and some state legislators’ efforts to nullify these bills.”

Wille said the process took about two hours and part of the interview was done in a room “that looked like an office room” and then they went outside to complete the interview.

“They made it a pleasure to do,” she said. “I heard that (Puna Councilman) Greggor (Ilagan) did an interview as well, but I don’t know that for certain.”

Ilagan was one of three councilmembers who voted against the ban — the others were Council Chairman J Yoshimoto and Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi. He was the subject of a Jan. 4 New York Times article titled “A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops.”

Ilagan did not respond to repeated cellphone messages by press time Friday, although the Tribune-Herald did speak to a staffer in his office, who neither confirmed nor denied his being interviewed by the program.

Nomi Carmona of Honolulu, founder and president of the anti-GMO organization Babes Against Biotech, was also interviewed in Kona, as was Big Island singer-songwriter and native Hawaiian cultural practitioner and activist Hawane Rios.

“They’re hilarious. They have the sense of humor to come at it with what they call ‘sleazy GMO attorneys,’” Carmona said and laughed. “I deal with GMO lobbyists and GMO executives almost every day in the capitol, so I’m used to dealing with politicians under their influence and all this craziness. They told me I did an awesome job. The producer was screaming and spinning around. I guess he liked my answers. You’ve just got to fire back with those kinds of shows.”

Carmona said the show’s host, comedian Jon Stewart, is “sadly, one of the most accurate national news sources, compared to mainstream news sources.” She said the show has touched on the GMO issue before, “calling attention to the idiocy of (pro-GMO) arguments.”

Rios, of Waimea, wrote and recorded the song “Poliahu I Ke Kapu,” dedicated to the snow goddess of Mauna Kea. She appeared Friday in a front page photo in the Tribune-Herald bearing a kahili in Hilo Circuit Court as part of a protest against the state’s granting of a conservation district use permit for construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the mountain native Hawaiian cultural practitioners consider sacred.

Like Carmona, Rios is a model on Babes Against Biotech’s fundraising calendar. She said she had “only a small part” in The Daily Show’s piece.

“I felt honored to be there to give my mana‘o as a Hawaiian from here, what I think about GMOs and what I feel about it,” Rios said.

She described the program’s interest in GMOs in Hawaii “perfect timing, because we need to get this issue out on a global scale because we have so many other issues, as well. Just getting one onto mainstream television is a big win for us because this is where we are as a people and what we do is gonna affect generations to come.”

Wille said the producers ended her interview by asking her to tell them a joke.

The joke she chose?

“The pro-GMO folks say it’s the anti-GMO folks that are against science and against progress,” she said. “… There are over 170 studies about health and safety issues (involved with genetically modified organisms). And despite the heavy weight of all this paper, … there’s no scientific studies. I think that’s ironic.”

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